QPR registered their finest win of the season to date on Tuesday night, easing to a 3-1 victory against Aston Villa in the Sky Bet Championship.
First half goals from Ryan Manning and Jake Bidwell set the R’s on their way, before substitute Luke Freeman banged home a third late on to put the play-off chasing Villains to the sword in emphatic style at Villa Park.
Rangers were outstanding from the first minute to the last, deservedly clinching maximum points and sending Villa to only their second defeat in twelve matches, on a night when Ebere Eze enhanced his ever-growing reputation with a performance of true class.
Manning opened the scoring inside 12 minutes with a fine header, before Bidwell doubled the R’s advantage just after the half-hour.
Freeman completed the R’s scoring on 83 minutes with a sweet strike from 15-yards and although James Chester pulled one back late on, it was Rangers’ evening – and how!
Ian Holloway made three changes to the R’s starting XI following Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Sunderland.
Jack Robinson (dead leg) and Paul Smyth (toe) missed out, whilst Freeman was named on the bench, with the midfielder one booking away from a two-match suspension – with the cut off for ten bookings ending at the conclusion of tonight’s fixture.
In came Joel Lynch, Manning and Pawel Wszolek.
Alex Smithies started in goal, behind a back four of Darnell Furlong, Nedum Onuoha, Lynch and Bidwell.
Wszolek and Manning occupied the wide left and right midfield roles respectively, with Massimo Luongo partnering Josh Scowen in the middle of the park.
In attack, Saturday’s man-of-the-match Ebere Eze played just off lone front-man Matt Smith.
Joining Freeman on the R’s bench were Matt Ingram, James Perch, Alex Baptiste, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Jordan Cousins and Conor Washington.
Villa boss Steve Bruce named an unchanged team following his sides’ 4-1 demolition of table-toppers Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday tea-time.
Lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, Sam Johnstone wore the number one shirt, with Ahmed Elmohamady, Chester, John Terry and Neil Taylor named in the Villa back four.
Mile Jedinak provided the protection behind the midfield quartet of Robert Snodgrass, Conor Hourihane, Jack Grealish and Albert Adomah, the scorer of Villa’s two goals in their 2-1 win at Loftus Road earlier in the season.
In-form Lewis Grabban led the line for the hosts.
The fixture, of course, was postponed ten days earlier, owing to the impact of the Beast from the East.
However, there were no such issues tonight, as the two teams took to the pitch at an expectant Villa Park.
Undeterred by the big home crowd, Rangers started well, creating a chance inside the opening 90 seconds.
Smith let fly from the edge of the box, with his low drive stinging the palms of Johnstone, whose strong left hand tipped the ball around the post.
Smith was in the thick of the action again on seven minutes, meeting Manning’s free-kick, only for his glancing header to go straight at Johnstone.
The goal the R’s fast-start deserved arrived just five minutes later.
Eze worked the ball out wide to Bidwell, who delivered a pin-point cross into the box, which Manning headed home from ten-yards out to hand Rangers the lead!
It was a fantastic header from the Republic of Ireland youngster, meeting the ball in front of Terry, for his first goal of the season.
Villa, as you would expect from a side with their quality and experience, responded positively to their early setback.
Adomah’s cross-cum-shot was tipped over by Smithies on 18 minutes, before Jedinak glanced the resultant corner wide.
Rangers were by no means second-best though.
Midway through the half, Furlong went close with a chance at the back post, and then Smith’s header from the edge of the six-yard box forced Johnstone into another save.
Eze was a constant threat, time after time leaving Villa defenders trailing in his wake, as the home crowd became more and more restless.
And the Villa faithful were stunned into silence on 33 minutes – as the Hoops doubled their advantage!
Impressive build-up play involving Luongo, Furlong and Wszolek ended with the latter firing the ball into the box, Manning dummied, and Bidwell – arriving bang on cue – slammed home an unstoppable left-footed strike from fully 20-yards.
It was a stunning strike, as the R’s travelling supporters rejoiced with a rendition of ‘Jake Bidwell, he scores when he wants!’
Playing in the number ten role, Eze was enjoying the freedom of Villa Park at times, linking up nicely with Wszolek just before the break. The Polish wide-man’s cross was played into a good area, but Johnstone smothered.
Smithies had to be at his agile best to produce a smart save from Grealish in first-half stoppage-time, as the half-time whistle was greeted by jeers from the home faithful.
Heading into the break with a two-goal lead, Rangers had been absolutely brilliant in the opening 45 minutes – but could they sustain it?
The expected Alamo from the hosts failed to materialise inside the opening stanza of the second half, with Rangers dominating the early exchanges.
And after Snodgrass fired a 25-yard volley wide, Bruce attempted to spring some injection into his side with his first substitution of the night on 56 minutes, as striker Keinan Davis entered the fray at the expense of left-back Taylor, as the hosts switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
Chester glanced over a header from eight-yards soon after, but the R’s were continuing to ask questions of their own – Eze countering and playing in Wszolek, who saw his shot from an acute angle saved by the advancing Johnstone.
Bruce made a second change midway through the half, with Grabban – who got little change out of the outstanding Onuoha and Lynch all night – replaced by Scott Hogan.
Eze was enjoying the best night of his fledgling QPR career, breaking into space with a wonderful dart and turn before firing a yard or so wide.
Holloway made a change of his own on 72 minutes, Perch replacing the tireless Wszolek, before Manning made way for Cousins soon after.
Eze – head and shoulders the best player on the park – was soon given a standing ovation by the Hoops faithful as he was replaced by Freeman with 11 minutes to play.
Villa’s final throw of the dice saw Birkir Bjarnason come on on 81 minutes, at the expense of Hourihane.
But it was Rangers who added the third goal of the contest on 83 minutes – thanks to another strike of real quality.
Furlong pulled the ball back to Freeman and the substitute did the rest, firing low into the bottom corner!
Chester’s late goal was a mere consolation for the hosts, who had been out-foxed, out-gunned and out-played in all departments by Holloway’s magnificent troops!