Both teams went into this fixture on the back of contrasting fortunes in their mid-week Premier League games. Sunderland had a dismal time at Ewood Park, whilst Queens Park Rangers made an astonishing comeback at home to beat Liverpool having been 2-0 down.
Sunderland made three changes to the side who were truly awful against Blackburn, two enforced as Sebastian Larsson and Phil Bardsley were unavailable through injury. John O’Shea made his return from injury at right-back, David Vaughan also returned into the midfield and finally Stephane Sessegnon replaced Fraizer Campbell after serving his three match ban. QPR made two changes with Jamie Mackie replacing club captain and moron-extraordinaire Joey Barton, and Taye Taiwo getting a start after the injury to Armand Traore.
The match started with some pace, though both sides struggled to string a move to create that first opportunity. It was the home side who came knocking first through Jack Colback, who skewed wide after excellent play from Sessegnon before then smashing a half volley off the outside of the post.
Rangers continued to struggle to impose themselves before the Black Cats went close again as Sessegnon dragged his shot wide after controlling Craig Gardner’s deflected cross. Adel Taarabt did smash a free-kick off the Sunderland wall before Bobby Zamora decided to embarrass himself, faking being hit with a head butt by Sotiris Kyrgiakos – not exactly from the sportsman’s textbook.
Sunderland grabbed their deserved breakthrough as two of their in form players combined. James McClean whipped a delightful cross in for Nicklas Bendtner to head home expertly. It was to be the last act of note before half-time, and QPR had to find something special get back into this after being pretty much non-existent as an attacking force.
The second half started much the same as the first, former Sunderland loanee Nedum Onouha, now a QPR player, prodded over from inside the penalty box before Vaughan blasted over from long range at the other end. Gardner then absolutely walloped a free-kick from just outside the area which unluckily crashed against the crossbar, and I’m not quite sure how the goal frame stayed upright.
Any Rangers hopes of making any fist of this match were dashed when another former Sunderland loanee Djibril Cisse threw them away with a truly awful two-footed lunge on substitute Campbell. Coming from a player who has broken his leg twice in his career, against another player who has had similar luck in terms of long-term injury, it was terribly disappointing and frankly disgraceful. Campbell was fine, thankfully.
The Wearsiders almost made the man advantage count immediately, Gardner’s cross fell to McClean whose shot was blocked excellently from just six yards out by Luke Young. McClean proved much less effective from the right, as instead of crossing he lashed a first time shot wide. Almost immediately after that wasteful play, the Irish international made amends by showing sheer persistence to score at the second attempt, with the help of a slight deflection from Anton Ferdinand.
Sunderland were not finished quite yet. They showed excellently organised team pressing to win the ball back on the left, Vaughan combined with McClean and the former Blackpool man had time to deliver an inch perfect first time cross. It was delightful, just close enough to Ferdinand to make him commit, just far away from keeper Paddy Kenny to make him stay on his line, and Sessegnon was left with a tap in.
Rangers did pull themselves back a potentially crucial goal in terms of goal difference. Left-back Taiwo’s beautiful free kick had Simon Mignolet do his one and only task of the afternoon – picking the ball out of his net.
The match laboured to an end as Sunderland picked up three points which put them just two points behind Liverpool. Admittedly, they did not really get out of second gear against an extremely poor QPR side who did not cause the home side many issues either before or after Cisse’s dismissal, which in truth was where the contest really ended. You can’t help but feel Mark Hughes dropped a clanger playing no wide midfielders, leaving Sunderland to run riot on both flanks where they tend to muster up most of their chances.
Man of the match simply has to be McClean, though Bendtner and Colback also had excellent games. The man from Derry is fast becoming one of the finds of the season as he continues to terrorise full-backs, notching another goal and assist today.
It is pleasing to see us get back to winning ways, especially with a daunting trip to the Etihad followed by the visit of Tottenham to come. This sets the side up nicely for that all important FA Cup quarter final replay with Everton, but cup dreams aside seventh spot in the league is well within our sights and is certainly not inconsequential.