Smithies heroics in vain as Villans steal points
RANGERS fell to their second 1-0 home loss in the space of five days, as Aston Villa this time left W12 with all three points.
Much like Wednesday’s encounter with Derby County at Loftus Road, Ian Holloway’s men were very much in the game against their promotion-chasing visitors.
However, also similar to that midweek encounter against the Rams, QPR would ultimately pay the price for a lack of cutting edge in the final third by conceding late in the second half.
After Alex Smithies produced a 31st-minute penalty save – incredibly, his fifth in eight for the R’s – to deny Jonathan Kodjia, it was the latter who made up for his earlier blemish 15 minutes from time.
Kodjia escaped Joel Lynch before shooting beyond Smithies, to inflict a fifth-straight defeat on Rangers.
Following the midweek reverse to Derby, Holloway made one change to his team for the visit of Steve Bruce’s Villa.
Pawel Wszolek came back into the starting XI, replacing Jordan Cousins. Cousins, of course, limped off on Wednesday with a hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome return to the substitutes’ bench for fans’ favourite Jamie Mackie, out since April with a combination of ankle and hamstring complaints.
In a 4-4-1-1 formation, QPR lined up as: Smithies; James Perch, Nedum Onuoha, Lynch, Jake Bidwell; Yeni Ngbakoto, Grant Hall, Massimo Luongo, Wszolek; Tjaronn Chery; Conor Washington.
Though the opening 10 minutes lacked any real quality, there was plenty of energy on show to make this an entertaining contest early on.
Play continually switched from one end to the other and, in the fifth minute, Villa’s Alan Hutton watched his distance effort deflect wide.
Four minutes later, meanwhile, Rangers went on the offensive. Hall’s clever slide-rule pass appeared to free Wszolek in the box, though he was denied by visiting custodian Mark Bunn, who quickly raced off his line to smother the ball.
Admittedly, clear-cut opportunities were at a premium for much of the first half and, when the biggest chance of them all was presented to Villa on the half-hour mark, they couldn’t take it.
Following Wszolek’s tug on the shirt of Kodjia in the box, referee Geoff Eltringham pointed to the spot. However, when the Villa striker eventually dusted himself down to take the 12-yard kick, he could find no way past Smithies.
The Rangers goalkeeper dived low to his left to palm the ball away, before Ross McCormack followed up to fire past the post from 10 yards.
Villa also threatened eight minutes before the break when Leandro Bacuna’s inviting left-flank centre zipped towards two waiting visiting bodies in the box. But, fortunately for the R’s at least, neither Albert Adomah nor Kodjia could meet the cross.
There was a half-time change for QPR. Washington was replaced, with Idrissa Sylla brought on in his place.
Ten minutes into the second period, Rangers had started quite brightly. All that was missing was a killer pass in the final third.
Two excellent, carbon-copy saves were required from Smithies in minutes 57 and 58 to keep Villa out.
First, Smithies flung himself low to his right to tip Kodjia’s blast wide, before Bacuna’s attempt was also turned around the post by the 'keeper.
A second R’s sub followed in the 62nd minute. Wszolek made way for Olamide Shodipo.
And Shodipo almost made an instant impact. His thumping shot was blocked in the box.
Like the midweek encounter with Derby, at 0-0, this game was finely poised with just under half an hour to go.
In the 70th minute, Perch’s looping header – from Ngbakoto’s left-wing cross – fell just over the upright for Rangers.
Four minutes later, a good chance presented itself to Villa’s Gary Gardner. He found space 20 yards from goal but got his subsequent effort all wrong, shooting high and wide.
However, the visitors wouldn’t pass at the next opportunity – and Kodjia redeemed himself, following his earlier penalty miss, to give Villa the lead.
The Ivory Coast international shrugged off Lynch before advancing into the box. Kodjia then arrowed a fierce low effort at the bottom right-hand corner, that shot under Smithies and in.
Straight after the goal, Holloway threw on Mackie – in place of Chery – for the final minutes.
It was from Mackie’s left-flank cross that Perch went close in the 82nd minute. The latter’s 20-yard volley flew inches wide of the bottom left-hand post.
Six minutes later, Mackie – continually involved after his introduction – spun and shot wide of the target from 10 yards.
Five minutes of added time were then signalled. Could Rangers find a morale-boosting equaliser?
Unfortunately not. If anything, it could have been 2-0 right at the death, though Smithies produced a fine block to deny sub Rudy Gestede, following a Villa counter attack.