Harry Redknapp's deflated expression spoke volumes as he faced the music without that precious win that everyone had been pinning their hopes on. QPR's new manager did not attempt to sugarcoat or put on a brave face. He was cheesed off and he looked it.
"Was this the kind of game you were itching to get back to during your five months off, Harry?" The question coaxed a smile, a chuckle even, from Redknapp. Welcome back to the harsh reality of life at the sharp end, where not everything turns out like your best-laid plans.
It was obvious that Redknapp – and everyone concerned with QPR, for that matter – had pinpointed this match against Aston Villa as a potential turning point. The fact the season's course stayed on its fragile track in some ways intensified the pressure that has been bearing down since the opening day of the season, an unexpected 5-0 abomination at Loftus Road inflicted by Swansea City.
Redknapp acknowledged that the players are feeling the tension. "Of course," he said. "It always creates anxiety when you are bottom of the league. Football is like life, it's about confidence. When things are going well you win games you don't know how you won. You think: 'We were rubbish today but we keep winning?' Sometimes you come off and you've played well but you can't get a win. That's how it goes."
Recovering confidence is a tricky business, and Redknapp realises that task is all the harder as Rangers are finding goals tough to come by. Jamie Mackie, whose flicked header got his team back on an even keel after an early wobble, was his usual enthusiastic self, selected at the expense of the rather more turbulent Djibril Cissé. Out wide, Shaun Wright-Phillips got into a couple of encouraging positions. But two of the most promising chances fell to their centre-halves, Ryan Nelsen and Clint Hill. Injuries in midfield cut Redknapp's options for substitutes and Cissé stayed on the bench, brooding in his big blue coat.
"It's a problem," Redknapp admitted. "We are short of goals. We are not overloaded with goalscorers at the club – that's obvious." QPR have scored only 11 goals from 15 Premier League games this season, and they have the worst goal difference in the division. They have managed the same number of league goals at Loftus Road in four months as Swansea managed in a single game.
All the signs point to Redknapp bringing in more firepower in January, despite his protestations that it would not be fair on the owners to pour more money into the squad if they are not in with a reasonable chance of survival by then.
It felt poignant to lurch from QPR's need for quick fixes to Paul Lambert's more organic approach to team building. The Aston Villa manager is enjoying the challenge of developing a team based around a young, homegrown core, and assisted by some astute signings.
Their goalscorer Brett Holman is becoming increasingly influential, alongside the weekly impressions being made by Christian Benteke, and the manager is encouraged by the mix. "They are all feeding off each other, which is good," he enthused. "The youngsters train the way they play and that's important. I don't think you can go from the training pitch and think you can turn it on and off like a switch. They have been excellent."
Again Benteke was singled out for praise, and Gabriel Agbonlahor's work around the young Belgian showed signs of a promising partnership. Benteke might be catching the eye of wealthier clubs gearing up in January, but Lambert tutted at the idea he might be allowed to leave. "He's going nowhere," he insisted, before praising what he brings as a player and a person. "He's his own man with his own character. A strong lad, but I don't think that should deflect from his ability. He's a really humble guy and it he keeps that up he'll go far. He can be anything he wants."
Brad Guzan also earned the plaudits for a commanding display behind Villa's three-man backline. His interventions ensured Redknapp left his home debut with more questions than answers as he tries to forge a winning team.
The QPR manager already feels he needs a miracle. "Joe Royle sent me a message … was it turning fishes into …" he said, searching for the right religious analogy. "Turning water into wine? The feeding of the 5000? Something like that." Or possibly even both, if QPR don't pick up that desperately needed win soon.
Man of the match Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)
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