Wednesday 13 December 2017

N'Zogbia finds range to foil Cisse's perfect start

Aston Villa 2 QPR 2 Henry Winter

Djibril Cisse and QPR started this entertaining game in style but Aston Villa finished by far the stronger, and were unfortunate not to win. Only Paddy Kenny's reflexes kept QPR in it.

So cautious in the early stages, when a Cisse strike and a surreal Stephen Warnock own goal put Rangers in charge, Villa responded impressively.

Darren Bent clinically and Charles N'Zogbia flamboyantly brought Villa level, but Kenny denied them further reward. Rangers ended with a point and the memory of Cisse's strong debut. The final piece of paperwork from Lazio to the FA had gone through 90 minutes before kick-off, clearing Cisse to play.

After the red tape had been unravelled, the £4m striker cut through the Villa defence as if it were ribbon. QPR's tactics had been to use his pace to get behind Richard Dunne and the hapless Warnock on the left of Villa's back four.

The Frenchman, returning to the Premier League, hit the ground running, scoring and putting in a first-half display of back-heels and back-flips that had the visiting fans purring. "There's only one Cisse,'' they chanted. Newcastle United fans will disagree but this was love at first sight between QPR and their new No 23.

Cisse was unstoppable, scoring a fine goal after Shaun Wright-Phillips had somehow laid the ball into his path. As the Holte End looked on in horror, the unmarked Cisse hammered the ball past Shay Given. His celebration was even better, that familiar collection of flips given an airing.

Cisse's movement was too much for Villa. He almost scored a second with an acrobatic volley. He then raced away from Dunne, never an equal sprint, and lifted in a cross that was just too high for Wright-Phillips.

The winger was linking well with Cisse, who found him with a neat back-heel midway through the half.

Jamie Mackie provided the width on the right while Rob Hulse partnered Cisse. The prospect of Bobby Zamora, who did not sign in time for this game, forming an exciting attacking axis with Cisse also warmed the hearts of the QPR fans on a cold night.

Villa manager Alex McLeish became increasingly frustrated with Warnock, and his stock fell even lower than the temperature when addressing a seemingly harmless cross from Taye Taiwo, the visitors' new left-back.

Warnock's reaction was extraordinary, resembling a sports-shy schoolboy trying to get out of games. Instead of heading clear, Warnock headed the ball firmly past Given. Villa's 'keeper had saved from his team-mate against Everton, but he had no chance here.

McLeish held his head in his hands. Yet his team responded, their momentum accelerated by the waning of QPR's initial adrenalin charge.

Robbie Keane was inevitably involved, firing goalwards and forcing Kenny to push the danger away.

The pressure told when Keane found Alan Hutton down the right and the Scot drilled the ball across low, perfectly for Bent's clever run. The striker nipped in to score with a typical first-time finish for his 100th Premier League goal, the 22nd man to achieve the feat.

Mark Hughes' side defended increasingly deep after the break and Villa did their utmost to capitalise. Cisse was a distant figure.

Eventually, on 79 minutes, Stephen Ireland released Petrov down the right and his cross was met magnificently by N'Zogbia, who drove the ball past Kenny. Villa were terrific as they sought a winner. Bent had a shot cleared off the line then Kenny saved brilliantly from N'Zogbia. Again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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