QPR battled to a frustrating 1-1 draw against Aston Villa, in a tough match that saw a controversial penalty and a last minute own-goal leave neither side satisfied.
The Super Hoops dominated possession in the first half, but were staring at a defeat after referee Michael Oliver gifted Villa a penalty over a non-contact dive by Gabriel Agbonlahor at the touchline. Villa got on track in the second half and fought to hold their lead following the blown call. They withstood everything QPR had to offer before Heidar Helguson's 93rd minute cross battered among defenders and rolled into the goal to level the game.
Despite egregious officiating (including two overlooked handballs by Alan Hutton), the R's put forth another strong effort, working smart passes and good interplay to deny their opponents the ball and control the pace of the game early. They showed grit and never conceded, fighting back to take a point away from the disappointing match.
Through the first half QPR thoroughly held their visitors at bay, spending virtually all their time probing the Villa defence and testing keeper Shay Given. Adel Taarabt had a fantastic effort early that passed the keeper but found the woodwork. Alejandro Faurlin worked some good passes on the left side, including one that put Jay Bothroyd in a dangerous opportunity but he wasn't able to find any takers in front of the net. Faurlin once again was quality, putting in work on the defensive side of the ball and working effectively in the transition game.
Villa struggled early to get going, and were mostly forgettable in the first half until Anton Ferdinand fouled a Villa player to set up a Barry Bannan free kick. Paddy Kenny managed a fantastic save, diving late and getting full extension to knock down a perfectly curling ball that could have put the Villains ahead despite their poor showing at that point.
Coming out for the second half, the tempo of the game dramatically changed, as a recommitted Villa squad worked better passing and moved aggressively up field. The game remained scoreless until the seminal 58th minute, when Agbonlahor and Armand Traore chased a ball down the right side of the penalty box. As it rolled out of bounds, Traore gave a slight tug on his jersey and sensing opportunity, the Villa man collapsed dramatically and popped up looking for a reward for his performance. Despite having good angle on the act, the ref handed Traore a yellow and put the ball on the spot, giving Barry Bannan the chance to be a hero. He neatly rolled a ball low and right past Paddy Kenny to put his side ahead while the Loftus Road faithful poured down their derision.
Sniffing victory, Villa pressed their attack and the pace quickened, counter matching counter but neither side could make much happen. Taarabt slipped a clever ball in to DJ Campbell in the 68th minute, who headed it to Shaun Wright Philips in a good set up, but Shay Given dove for a great save to push the ball wide.
The next offence that is sure to stick in QPR fan's minds for some time was a set piece in the 71st minute that saw justice denied again. Adel Taarabt drilled a corner kick into the crowd, finding the Grey Peacock himself, Shaun Derry, in perfect position. Derry's header was goal-bound before Alan Hutton's subtle arm flap sent it careening out of play. Derry can't catch a break but never stops out working defenders for a chance. The handball was more obvious on replay, but still a missed call that affected the outcome of the game. Hutton committed another later in the game by raising his hands against a Tommy Smith cross, but that was less intentional or consequential.
Credit QPR's players for not quitting. Villa got better as they went on; but the R's didn't get worse. They had more opportunities than I can count - eleven corners and five or six free kicks from good positions - but couldn't convert anything. Hutton, Collins and Dunne deserve a round from their mates, for holding their team in the game against constant pressure from QPR. The final goal from Helguson was a fluke and a lucky break for the home side, who were nearly shut out of this one despite their superior effort. In typical own goal fashion, it was the worst result of best intentions, as Stephen Ireland's diving attempt to clear instead struck Dunne in the chest and sailed into their net.
The most conspicuous player in the match for QPR became Armand Traore, and unfortunately not for good reasons. He was the player involved in the penalty, which still seems a very poor call by the official, and was carded again - justifiably - in the 90th minute, when he came sliding hard in on a Villa player. The foul was just late and rough enough to be a yellow, and despite Tarore's disbelief, if you're already in the books you have to act better than that. He was sent off and received a bit of the gaffer's attention straight away. After the match Warnock called him a disgrace, but looked at this as a learning moment for the young player. His absence next week will be a blow, particularly with Fitz Hall once again getting beaten by forwards on a regular basis and Clint Hill now on loan at Nottingham. The second foul was a real shame, not only for sending QPR to ten men in the dying minutes, but because outside of that act, he was having another good game. Traore has a good burst of speed and was involved in the forward play often today. I don't count the non-penalty call against him, and outside of a stupid move to strip the ball late, I thought he was one of the better players.
The scoring drought continued for Jay Bothroyd, who was removed after the 65th minute in favour of DJ Campbell. Bothroyd had a few good chances, including one in the 50th minute where Taarabt fed him a great ball on the transition, only to get it tangled in his feet and stripped away by a defender. I still think Bothroyd gives us a good physical presence up front, but this is now the sixth appearance (four starts) without a goal this season. He's not alone in struggling to find the back of the net, but needs to start scoring or he may start losing time to DJ Campbell, who looked good coming on in relief.
In the end, this was a game the R's could've won. You can't control the breaks and sometimes bad luck works for and against you as it did today. Nonetheless, it’s a good statement about where the club is that they were disappointed to only snatch a point here and the effort they put out to fight back at the end was encouraging.
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