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Honours even is basement battle

POINT TAKEN: QPR's Harry Redknapp (left) and Aston Villa's Paul Lambert shared the spoils

WITH DECEMBER'S winter chill descending, no wins all season and cast adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, Harry Redknapp’s introduction to Queens Park Rangers fans ahead of the start of their relegation tussle with Aston Villa was met as much with relief as excitement by fans.

One of Redknapp’s first utterances after signing on the dotted line was a call for graft from his players. One player who seemed to be taking heed was Jamie Mackie.

It was Mackie’s industry that drew QPR level in the 18th minute - a buccaneering run reaping dividends, the home side having fallen behind ten minutes earlier to a Brett Holman pile-driver, the Australian's first league goal for the Midlanders.

Mackie’s commitment to leading the line, hassling and haranguing a youthful Villa back-three must have warmed Redknapp’s heart but perhaps highlighted the lack of fight from some of his more senior colleagues. It was perhaps also one of the reasons why the flamboyant Djibril Cisse was dropped to the bench.

As for Villa, a side improving but still far from extinguishing their own early season gloom, talk focused as much on who was not in the team as who was.

Darren Bent has always split opinion, but at least manager Paul Lambert’s opinion of the mercurial forward seems to be set. Perhaps wary of headline writers fishing for intrigue, he restored the £24m striker to the squad having omitted him from the one that had triumphed against Reading on Tuesday night. But again there was no starting place for the England man.

For a large part Lambert can justify his Bent stance by the power and presence of Christian Benteke. In Benteke he bought a £7 million battering ram. It is difficult to find another top flight forward harder to shake off the ball. But the young Belgian is starting to show glimpses of the guile and composure he was probably not noted for.

Lambert continues to peddle the line that Bent remains part of his plans, that talk of transfer window moves are baseless, but tellingly he adds that he “see’s what goes on in the training ground – and bases his team choices on this."

Read into this – a moth-balling of an injury prone player by a manager needing to add experience across the squad on a limited budget.

So where next for the nomadic Bent? While insisting he will be watching the purse strings come January, Redknapp recognizes the derth of proven finishers in his squad and concedes that Darren Bent “is a good player."

Liverpool too may see the urgency to take a look. However judging by Lambert’s attitude, the opportunity to see Bent in Villa colours over the next month may be at something of a premium.

A point apiece while far from ideal represents progress for both managers, with QPR hitting the woodwork on three occasions perhaps they were the unluckier, but if Villa were more clinicial in the final third, they too could easily have snatched all three points.

Lambert took comfort in the fact that he had negated the new manager syndrome, while Redknapp was encouraged that his side having fallen behind earlier were not – for once – dead and buried.

But the niggling doubt remains that whether shared points amongst relegation rivals is enough to lay the foundations of a path towards safety in with west London or the West Midalnds.

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