Villa Park is a magnificent stadium. A, excuse the cliché, proper football ground. Regional accents, surrounded by flyovers, railway lines and industrial estates, it is a slice of what the great game once was. Atmosphere-wise, however, it has suffered from the exact same sanitisation inflicted upon every other top-flight ground. When Djibril Cisse gave visiting QPR the lead last night, the murmurings of discontent in the home end turned into a wave of dissent, the stadium’s acoustics ensuring that the fans’ collective chagrin showered down on the poorly-performing players on the pitch below. It got worse for Villa as well, when Stephen Warnock planted an inch-perfect header past Shay Given – into his own net. Red-faced Warnock slumped to the ground, his head in his hands, realising that the he had inadvertently given the away side a seemingly unassailable advantage with just a few minutes remaining until the interval.
However, with Rangers, no lead is unassailable. This is perhaps understandable, with two debutants in the back line – Nedum Onouha and Taye Taiwo – but the fact remains that Mark Hughes’ tactics were misguided. By playing so deep and allowing the hosts to not only dominate possession, but in effect signing over ownership of the ball to a handful of Villa players, the R’s were living dangerously. It is fair to say that had Darren Bent not netted a splendid slotted effort on the cusp of half time, Villa may not have netted twice after the break. But in reality, once Warnock’s wonder blunder had doubled QPR’s advantage, they fatally sat back, and failed to close down the flanks sufficiently. And, by some marvellous coincidence, guess where both goals came from for Alex McLeish’s side. Luke Young’s marking on Charles N’Zogbia was, well, that sentence is actually a contradiction in terms. There was no marking.
Despite this, and the rather chilling sight of both Rob Hulse and Hogan Ephraim on the field in the same game, albeit at different times, there were a number of positives for Rangers. Cisse looked sharp, and took his goal exceptionally well, in the style of a seasoned goalscorer. It’s also fair to say that, despite private cynicism, the prospect of Bobby Zamora and Cisse lining up against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday fills one with, oh, what is it? Ah yes, positivity. The exact opposite emotion to when Jay Bothroyd’s name is read out over the PA system at Loftus Road.
It is certainly a satisfying feeling, just to have to vague knowledge that your team is capable of scoring more than one goal per game. If you look at the R’s goalscoring charts, Heidar Helguson currently leads with seven in the league. Who is next? One of several players with two goals thus far. Hopefully the arrival of Cisse and Zamora will remedy this, and Taarabt’s return from the African Cup of Nations can ensure that we are treated to the rather undignified sight of Shaun Derry being wheeled out to chase after the ball for 90 minutes to no avail. If only he were seven years younger, and Joey Barton were less of a prima donna waste of space and smartphone internet allowance.
With the window closed, mercifully attention has switched to events on the pitch and the fact is that, no matter how exciting the January signings have been, QPR pissed away a lead, admittedly one they hardly deserved, to a team with about as much urgency and potency as a stoned eunuch. Let’s hope that this week’s second dosage of Midlands football yields a slightly less deflating outcome, and Cisse, Taiwo, Diakite, Zamora and Onouha can set about making Loftus Road a fortress again, not merely a place for misfiring sides to rediscover their form, balance and poise.