I’m not a great lover of clichés. Nonetheless, it’s hard to begin this diagnosis without mentioning the words “not a classic” or “it’s the three points that matter”. So I will: this was not a classic, but it’s the three points that matter.
What undoubtedly was classic was the fact that – on a chill, foggy, damp, grey West London morning, with the match being shown on telly and no doubt most pockets stretched by Christmas shopping – Villa fans packed out both tiers of the School End, and embarrassed the R’s support for two hours with incredible, stand-shaking support. You have to think this made a difference, as QPR slowly lost belief in themselves.
Not so at the start. For the best part of half an hour, QPR played the better stuff. With the skilful Tjaronn Cherry popping up everywhere and pulling the strings, and Villa seemingly happy to stand off, Rangers looked the more likely to score. In fact, if they had learned how to cross a ball, they may well have done.
But Villa soaked it up, and began to look dangerous on the counter. Only Smithies in the QPR goal really had anything to do, despite QPR’s possession, and that stretched (literally) to a fine save from Kodjia’s rather lazy penalty before the break. His save stirred the hitherto soporific QPR fans briefly into life, but it wasn’t long before they went back to sleep again.
You do have to wonder about QPR’s half time pitch interviews with ex players. Don Masson – a stalwart of the 70s “nearlymen” – well, ok. But John Gregory? That played right into the hands of the travelling Holtenders, who had already been buoyed by a Tim Sherwood walkpast before kick-off on his way to the gantry. Err – QPR? Doh!
The second half was altogether different. Villa looked much sharper, played with far more attacking intent, and capitalised on a tiring QPR, who weren’t able – even with the introduction of some fresh legs – to keep up their first half pressing game.
The goal was, ultimately, fairly inevitable. Smithies had already added to his penalty save by turning powerful, netbound strikes from Kodjia and Bacuna just wide – but it was a matter of time. When Kodjia unleashed a third, identikit drive towards the bottom left hand, Smithies couldn’t stop it finding the corner. Cue claret and blue jubilation, though you had to feel for Smithies, at least for a nanosecond.
The plusses? Fantastic support; a clean sheet; three points but perhaps most significantly, getting the Bruce bandwagon rolling again after recent hiccoughs.
Doc’s man of the match: Jordan Amavi. Neat and tidy all day – and couldn’t be done for pace, however hard QPR tried to get behind him.