Queens Park Rangers 0 – 1 Aston Villa
After the trials and tribulations of the previous fortnight, it was good to get back to winning ways on Sunday at Loftus Road.
Like Brentford, this part of West London is a throwback to the old days when football grounds were proper stadiums and not the soulless bowls they build now. Villa’s performance was a throwback to the old days as well: we won. Away from home!
And thoroughly deserved it was as well. QPR are in meltdown; when Ian Holloway told the board he’d take them out of the Championship, down into League One probably wasn’t what they had in mind but there seems an inevitability about that outcome. We’re probably the best club to know relegation fodder when we see it.
Jonathan Kodjia’s late strike proved the difference between the two sides but it should have been more. Fair play to the Ivory Coast international for not letting the penalty miss overly affect his game but whose turn is it next I wonder. There’s also a nagging concern about what happens in January and February but we’ll worry about that nearer the time. Not that you can get much nearer, of course!
Had it not been for QPR’s Alex Smithies, the margin of victory would have been wider. I haven’t seen the youngster before but his name has been added to the list of ‘one to watch’. And watch on enviously we did as he produced a string of fine saves, notably from Bacuna and Kodjia. Gary Gardner stung his palms with a fine driven effort as well. Villa didn’t have the lead but it wasn’t through lack of effort.
Kodjia’s penalty was comfortably stopped by Smithies and after McCormack failed to convert the rebound, a sense that the Rangers sucker punch was about to be delivered, grew with each passing minute.
However, football wisdom has it that if you keep knocking, eventually you get it. And get in is exactly what Kodjia’s late shot did, the ferocity of the effort took the ball under Smithies’ body and into the net. It’s a goal which fans think the ‘keeper should stop’ but on this occasion, he could do little or nothing about it. The eruption of relief from the away end was shared around the claret and blue world; a pressure lifted from all our shoulders.
This though, was an outstanding team performance. Not because we blew QPR away with stylish football and overpowered them but because we dug in and every setback was met stoically. Heads could quite easily dropped but they didn’t; I’d venture that none of the players hid during the match. It was a genuine team performance and a collective Man of the Match award is deserved.
It kept us within six points of the play-off places and as Steve Bruce said afterwards, that must be the first target. With the upcoming fixtures, it’s unlikely we’ll start the New Year in the top six but certainly by the end of January. The way the campaign has gone, that would be an outstanding achievement from Bruce and the players.