QPR and Villa rally for vital victories
Queens Park Rangers' Premier League survival bid is well-and-truly alive after they earned only their fourth win of the season against Sunderland on Saturday. However, Reading remain in deep trouble following defeat in the big relegation six-pointer against Aston Villa, while Southampton stay close to the bottom three after a stalemate at Norwich.
Paul Lambert's Aston Villa side claimed three enormous points with a 2-1 win over Reading at the Madejski Stadium, leaving the Royals 19th in the Premier League - only above QPR by virtue of the goals scored column. Strikes from Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor lifted Villa out of the relegation zone above Wigan, and they had to come from behind on away soil.
Reading actually took the lead thanks to a horror show for 21-year-old Villa defender Nathan Baker on the half-hour, diverting the ball into his own net with his standing leg as he attempted to clear Jobi McAnuff's cross.
However, within two minutes Villa were level, Benteke's deflected effort finding its way past Stuart Taylor after the ball came in from the flank. Reading then contributed to their own downfall with some awful defending for Villa's second on the stroke of the interval, although nothing should detract from Agbonlahor's emphatic finish.
The home crowd howled with disapproval in the second period when Noel Hunt's strike was flagged for offside - replays showing it was a matter of inches. Reading pressed forward, having carved out a reputation for fightbacks this season, but they could not rescue the situation on this occasion, leaving them four points adrift of safety.
Harry Redknapp has history when it comes to defying the Premier League trapdoor, earning the nickname "Harry Houdini" for his magic act at Portsmouth. He requires something similarly spectacular at QPR, and a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Sunderland courtesy of Loic Remy, Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas gave Rangers a giant shot in the arm. The Loftus Road club found themselves staring at a potential six-point gulf to 17th place at one stage in the afternoon, but they broke their league goalscoring drought - stretching back to Boxing Day on home soil - to keep the gap at four.
Steven Fletcher netted Sunderland's opener in the 20th minute, converting a quick counter after Adam Johnson's shot was blocked. However, Remy scored his first goal at Loftus Road to equalise with a classy finish at the near post, before Townsend smashed the goal of the day - chesting and volleying home from 25 yards to win it. Jenas then added another high-quality strike as Rangers enjoyed a rare moment of comfort in the dying minutes.
Southampton will be looking nervously over their shoulders following a 0-0 draw away to Norwich. Mauricio Pochettino has taken a mere six points from seven games in charge since he controversially replaced Nigel Adkins as manager, and Saints remain only four clear of drop zone.
They had plenty of chances in a lively first half at Carrow Road, although it was early in the second period that the first real gilt-edged opportunity went begging when Adam Lallana fired over with the goal at his mercy. Controversy arrived in injury-time when Norwich were awarded a soft penalty, but Artur Boruc proved the Saints hero with a save from Grant Holt.
In the day's other game, West Brom maintained their hunt for European football, beating Swansea 2-1 at the Hawthorns. Victory lifts the Baggies above Liverpool into seventh and came courtesy of goals from Romelu Lukaku and Jonathan De Guzman (OG).
Michu missed a couple of early chances for the Swans but Luke Moore steered home a clever header on the half-hour to open the scoring. Lukaku used his pace and power to equalise close to half-time, but then saw a second-half penalty saved. The Baggies were not to be denied, De Guzman the unlucky man as Angel Rangel's clearing heading ricocheted in off his back.