Charlie Austin ensured that for the first time in a week, the focus at Queens Park Rangers switched away from the weight of Adel Taarabt and the management style of Harry Redknapp and was instead focused firmly on the club’s prospects of survival.
The Rangers striker struck twice, once in each half, to secure only a second league win of the season and move the club off the foot of the Premier League.
“I’m over the moon to score twice in the Premier League but I couldn’t do it without my team-mates,” said a delighted Austin last night.
Good news at last, and there was no doubt Redknapp needed it.
“Charlie Austin came up with two great finishes and he’s a smashing lad. He should get a good tally of goals,” gushed Redknapp afterwards.
There was a sense of tension being lifted around Loftus Road. The same could not be said for Aston Villa, where Paul Lambert and Roy Keane now face a testing challenge to revive a season that had started brightly. Five defeats on the bounce, 531 minutes without a goal, the numbers are beginning to look bleak.
Redknapp was desperate to put a frustrating week behind him after his very public argument with Adel Taarabt, the Moroccan playmaker. Eight days previously, the Rangers manager, angry at the way his side conceded a last minute own-goal to gift Liverpool a 3-2 victory, explained he was unable to select Taarabt because the player was unfit and overweight. That drew a furious response from the midfielder who allowed himself be photographed lifting up his shirt to justify his claim he was in trim, and went on to condemn Redknapp’s approach to training. Cue another snipe from Redknapp, prompting chairman Tony Fernandes to apologise for the “embarrassment” the row had caused.
With a trip to Chelsea looming on Saturday followed by the visit of Manchester City, it was vital Rangers took full advantage last night.
The confidence of Paul Lambert’s side inevitably took a hit, particularly following the 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park last time out.
Redknapp certainly appeared relaxed before kick-off, shaking hands and drawing a smile out of Roy Keane, Lambert’s assistant, despite Keane’s claim that Redknapp’s management style was “too cosy”.
Redknapp’s side played with a similar fluency in the first half as they maintained some of the good habits shown against Liverpool and avoided the woeful defending that was their downfall against the Reds.
Christian Benteke started only his second match of the season for Villa, providing a focal point for the visiting attack when he chested down a cross into the path of Ashley Westwood who pulled his effort wide.
Andreas Weimann looked lively down the Villa right but Rangers looked solid and gave themselves something to hold onto when Austin fired them into a 17th minute lead.
It was the most straightforward of build-ups, Richard Dunne punting a long clearance forward towards Bobby Zamora who used his strength to hold off Ron Vlaar and divert the ball into the path of Austin. The striker finished precisely with right-foot half volley from the edge of the area.
That gave Rangers a foothold that they never looked like losing. Villa tried to work their way back into the game but their finishing was as tame as might be expected from a side in trouble.
Benteke and Ciaran Clark both fluffed good chances to score before Austin showed them how it was done in the 76th minute, when he darted to the near post to turn home Eduardo Vargas’s low cross.
The victory was assured and the relief for Rangers was profound. “Today is a good turning point for us,” said Zamora afterwards.
A weight had been lifted, if not from Taarabt.
QPR (4-4-2): Green 7, Isla 6, Caulker 7, Dunne 7, Yun 6, Vargas 6 (Traore 6, 87), Henry 7, Sandro 8, Fer 7 (Kranjcar 6, 90), Austin 9, Zamora 8 (Hoilett 6, 63)
ASTON VILLA (4-3-3): Guzan 6, Lowton 7, Vlaar 6, Clark 6, Cissokho 6, Cleverley 6, Westwood (Cole 70, 6), Sanchez 8, Weimann 7 (Bent 70,6), Benteke 6, Agbonlahor 6.
Referee: L Mason