Hoops certainly spring eternal for Aston Villa.
Hoops certainly spring eternal for Aston Villa.
Whatever it is with those blue and white horizontal-striped shirts that brings the best out in Villa players, Paul Lambert should try to find a way to bottle it.
A stunning comeback victory over QPR that was equally, if not more, impressive than the one that preceded it against Reading, should now provide the team with the impetus they need for the remainder of the campaign.
The sticky situation the claret and blues found themselves in before these two crunch games meant that they were inevitably going to be branded relegation ‘six-pointers.’
And, fortunately, that is precisely how many points Villa have banked to ensure their Premier League future remains very much in their own grasp.
Villa also secured – perhaps with an element of fortune – back-to-back victories in the league for the first time since the final two games of the 2010-11 campaign.
That’s 68 matches where a win has been in not-so-splendid isolation from the time when Gary McAllister was in temporary charge of the club and Villa beat Arsenal and Liverpool at the tail-end of term.
Up until this point, hope was pretty much all that Villa fans could rely on in another traumatic campaign, albeit not one besieged by the rabid civil war that engulfed the club under Alex McLeish.
The assurances of “we’ll be fine” and a steadfast belief in his own footballing philosophies were platitudes from Lambert of which some – this writer included – had started to grow weary.
Now the Scot has flipped the season on its head. And if he can coax similar displays to the last two out of his squad then Villa can start to look to mid-table, given they are only four points behind 11th-placed Stoke.
If Villa end up relegated from this point, then serious questions have to be asked. The job is not yet done and while there has been a growing confidence about this raw group of players since the turn of the year.
But there still remains a capacity to shoot themselves in the foot. Nothing can be taken for granted just yet.
In fact, it was one such daft mistake that allowed QPR to take the lead when Joe Bennett – a 20th-minute substitute for Nathan Baker who left the pitch after a clash of heads – gave the ball away cheaply within three minutes of being on the pitch.
Bennett played a lax pass inside, which was seized upon by Jermaine Jenas, who fed the ball to Bobby Zamora and he smashed a low effort that Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who had already made two world-class saves from Christopher Samba earlier in the first-half, parried.
Jenas, who played three games in an injury-hit loan spell at Villa Park last season, continued his run and slid in to poke the ball in the net as a desperate Bennett attempted to get back.
French striker Loic Remy, who arrived at QPR for £8m in January, showed a flash of brilliance with a spectacular effort from the corner of the box moments later, which Guzan palmed over in the 31st minute, while Jose Bosingwa struck the post from a free-kick.
Had it not been for Guzan and a bit of luck QPR would have been out of sight. However, despite the dominance of Harry Redknapp’s side, the claret and blues got themselves on level terms in first-half injury time when Gabby Agbonlahor directed a close-range header from a Matthew Lowton cross past Julio Cesar in the QPR goal.
It was a crucial goal, at a crucial time, and the momentum had swung Villa’s way, sucking the life out of the visitors.
There was little surprise then, when Villa raced out of the blocks after half-time and took the lead on the hour-mark.
Bennett picked up the ball after a corner had been cleared and fed it into the feet of Andreas Weimann.
The Austria striker twisted and turned on the edge of the box before drilling a low effort that, perhaps, Cesar should have done better with, but that mattered little to the Holte End.
Lambert’s side should have increased their advantage in the 65th minute when Lowton played a neat one-two with Christian Benteke only for the attacking right-back to place his shot wide.
Ciaran Clark got his head on the end of Ashley Westwood’s corner four minutes later but Cesar gathered comfortably.
Yet QPR refused to throw in the towel and equalised in the 73rd minute when Andros Townsend picked the ball up from Park Ji-Sung’s lay-off and saw his shot – via a deflection off Villa captain Ron Vlaar – nestle in the corner of net.
Villa bagged the points with nine minutes left, though, when a tricky run from substitute Charles N’Zogbia culminated in a clever ball for Weimann who showed great persistence and cut the ball back for Benteke to calmly place the ball into a vacant net with his left foot.
By Timothy Abraham