A late goal by Sunderland’s Wes Brown put paid to QPR’ s 2nd half fight back as they recovered from going two goals behind. Goals by Heidar Helguson and Jamie Mackie had cancelled out Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon earlier strikes. QPR’s dismal run continued at Loftus Road as Sunderland inflicted the third defeat on the Londoners and chalked up a second win in three for the newly appointed manager, Martin O’Neill.
Thanks to the fixture compilers, Sunderland were playing their second game in London within three days which must’ve been a great strain on the fans who travelled down from Wearside. And with the prices of top flight football, it was also a big strain on the southern based Mackem fans. But they certainly left the ground the happier with the late, late show from the Black Cats.
Neil Warnock made two changes from the side that started against Manchester United on Sunday. Paddy Kenny made a return in goal after his four match hiatus following injury and Shaun Derry returned in midfield. The back-four were unchanged with Traore and Young at full-back with Connolly and Gabbidon in the middle of defence. The midfield saw Derry partnering Faurlin in the holding positions with Wright-Phillips out wide left and Barton wide right. Helguson was alone upfront with Mackie in the hole behind him.
Sunderland elected to kick towards the School End 1st half so we would take the kick-off. The ball was rolled to Shaun Derry who instantly thumped the ball skywards and out towards the East Paddock. The ball flew out for a throw-in with less than 10 seconds on the clock. It was going to be a long night ! Before the clock had got to one minute, Armand Traore had intercepted a pass down the right wing and set about the Sunderland defence. He ran at and past the right-back Phil Bardsley and put in a peach of a cross to the far post where Helguson was lurking. Showing wisdom gained through a long career, Helguson peeled off his marker and was waiting to pull the trigger at the far post, but Kieran Richardson just managed a slight touch and deflected the ball beyond Helguson and out for a throw.
On 4 minutes following some good work by Barton and Mackie down the right channel, the ball fell invitingly for Luke Young who tried his luck from 18 yards, but Wes Brown did what he is expected to do and put a block tackle in. From the resulting corner, Barton found Gabbidon’s head, but his 6 yard header sailed harmlessly wide of the keeper’s right-hand post. Then on 6 minutes, an innocuous challenge by Bardsley on Wright-Phillips saw Barton ping the free kick into the box where Mackie won his aerial duel, but the header sailed over the bar. We were looking lively and had won two corners within the first 10 minutes and had the first three efforts on goal.
Then as the clock went into double figures, the visitors awoke from their brief slumber and started to make an impression. First Cattermole found Larsson who burst past Young and delivered a dangerous looking cross that Kenny saved comfortably with Bendtner lurking in the 6-yard box. Within 3 minutes the visitors almost took the lead as our defence was exposed for the first of many occasions. Faurlin fouled David Vaughan down our right in front of the Ellerslie Road Stand. Larsson took the free kick and delivered a bending cross that was flicked on by John O’Shea and as our defence stood like statues, Bendtner made a late run behind the back-four and met the ball with a deft header that had Kenny relying on the frame of the goal to keep the ball from hitting the net. Connolly was first on hand to mop up and thump the ball clear. It should have served as a warning.
On 18 minutes, Sessegnon attacked us down our left and as the ball was delivered to the near post, Gabbidon sliced his clearance into the upper tier of the School End. Kieran Richardson took the corner and picked out Bendtner’srun from the middle of the box to the near post. In his 10 yard sprint, he had gained a yard on his marker Connolly which was crucial as the Danish forward punished our lethargy at the back and thumped the ball into the back of the net with a bullet header.
Having then re-started the game, we handed possession to the visitors almost immediately and Sessegnon ran at our back-four and fed Richardson on the overlap to hit a 20-yard shot that thankfully whistled a foot wide of the right-hand post. The first groans rang out among the natives. They became more frequent as for the next 15 minutes, Sessegnon terrorised our back-four with his pace and was ably assisted by Bendtner’s movement and the midfield industry of Lee Cattermole and Larsson. Even Richardson, who plays left-back, was causing us problems !!!
As much as we had the lion’s share of the possession, it seemed that every final ball found the head of the first defender with Brown and Bramble mopping up every cross, corner and free kick with consummate ease. Some of our passing was also poor which wasn’t helping either. Twice in succession Barton broke up a Sunderland attack and set about the visitors’ rearguard, but on both occasions his ball into the channels went straight out for goal kicks. Cue more groans !
On 37 minutes Traore got to the bye-line and crossed, but once again the first defender blocked the delivery for our fourth corner of the match. As ever Barton took it and the ball fell into Gabbidon’s path, but although he got the shot on target, Westwood made a comfortable save. Then just before the end of the half, we had two chances as first Faurlin hit a left-foot shot from 20 yards that went a foot wide, then Wright-Phillips trapped a high ball and as he entered the box he attacked Richardson and hit a cross-cum-shot that went past the far post with Helguson and Mackie attempting to get a touch on the ball.
Then the Sunderland players and fans appealed for a penalty as a Bendtner shot from the edge of the box was blocked by Connolly. As it was at the School End I didn’t have a clear view, but seeing the reaction of both players and supporters leads me to think that it was a lucky escape. Literally the last action was a simple ball from Faurlin to Wright-Phillips out wide left that was embarrassingly mis-controlled and the ball went out for a throw in front of the dugouts and Wright-Phillips seemed to signal to the bench that he had a problem. Half-time: 0-1 and even a neutral would have said that it was a fair reflection on the game.
The start of the 2nd half saw the introduction of Adel Taarabt in place of the aforementioned Shaun Wright-Phillips. Sunderland kicked off and immediately Sessegnon was causing us problems with a mazy run that resulted in his 20 yard shot going wide of Kenny’s right-hand post. Two minutes later, Sessegnon was at it again as he linked up with Bendtner and the Dane fed Richardson who hit his left-foot shot a foot wide of the goal. With the introduction of the Moroccan Magician, we had upped the tempo slightly and changed our game plan. Well going forward we had, whereas at the back it was still pandemonium.
On one such foray into the opposition half, Traore again beat his marker and put in a curling left-footed cross to the far post. Helguson out-jumped Wes Brown and powered his header goalwards and beat Westwood, but Bramble made a desperate lunge to head the ball off the line. On 53 minutes the visitors doubled their lead following what can only be described as shocking defending by the whole back-four. We were on the attack and Helguson had won a corner. The ball into the box was cleared and as the ball entered our half we didn’t look under any pressure whatsoever. Gabbidon was on the half-way line and underneath the high ball for what was a simple header. For once Bendtner didn’t even challenge for the ball and left it to our Welsh international to head the ball into the path of our tormentor-in-chief Sessegnon. With both Connolly and Young too far away to be actually marking him, he just ran straight down the middle as Kenny tried to close the angle down he sold the keeper a dummy and rolled the ball into an unguarded goal.
In trying to keep up with the play, in particular Stephane Sessegnon, referee Andre Marriner appeared to have injured his thigh. Meanwhile Fitz Hall was still 30 yards from the penalty area. The referee couldn’t continue and following a four minute break in play, he was eventually replaced by the football world’s worst referee, Stuart Attwell. I believe both Lee Cattermole and Joey Barton’s backsides made a strange squeaking noise ! Mine did as well as I contemplated our sixth defeat in eight games. What I’d witnessed so far gave me no indication of where our next goal was going to come from, or shot on target for that matter.
For the next ten minutes we huffed and puffed, but the final ball was always lacking. Taarabt did conjure up some magic and then lobbed the ball over the back-four and as Helguson looked likely to score, a defender got in a block for a corner. Then on 62 minutes, Faurlin fed Traore in-field on half-way who advanced over the half-way line. With his options limited, Faurlin made a run on the blind side of Phil Bardsley and was found with a sublime pass as he entered the penalty box. Faurlin crossed the ball first time and as the keeper, Wes Brown and Helguson converged on the ball, QPR’s No.9 seemed to get the final touch to notch his 7th goal in ten starts. To say that it was against the run of play would be a fair assessment.
We then started to play with a swagger and confidence not seen all night. Suddenly we were showing some urgency and winning tackles all over the pitch. There was even time for Adel to do some drawbacks while on the attack. Then once again Faurlin and Traore combined down the left and as the ball was curled to the far post, Helguson rose highest and as his header flew across the face of the goal, Mackie gambled by diving headlong and got a touch with his head to complete a miracle turnaround and notch his first goal since scoring against Swansea on Boxing Day last year. The goal may have been against the run of play, but the second certainly wasn’t and we were now going for the jugular.
On 72 minutes following some great play down the right by Mackie, Barton and Young, the ball fell to Taarabt on the edge of the box. He took a touch and delivered an excellent low shot around a mass of defenders and forced Westwood into an outstanding save, diving down to his left-hand post. The home crowd had now woken up and were urging Rangers on. We were pressing high up the pitch and attacking in numbers. In chasing a winner, we left ourselves prone to a counter-attack and were thankful to Kenny for keeping us level in quick succession. Bendtner held the ball up and slipped it into Sessegnon’s path. He ran at our back-four and found substitute Craig Gardner in space. As he was closed down by Young, he cut in onto his favoured right foot and hit a curling right-footer that was destined for the top corner until Paddy Kenny dived to his left to palm the ball out for a corner.
Then Kenny repeated the trick with the same aplomb in denying Bardsley who hit a speculative 25 yard shot again to the keeper’s left. With ten minutes left, Hall replaced Traore who seemed to have a calf injury which doesn’t look promising with games coming thick and fast in the next two weeks. We may have improved immeasurably in the 2nd half, but the same deficiencies from the 1st half remained. And so it was to prove in the dying seconds.
With just over a minute of normal time remaining, Richardson swung in a corner to the near post. With about four defenders going to the ball, Wes Brown was first to the ball and glanced a header to the far post where Faurlin could only head the ball upwards, sending the ball over the line via the crossbar. It was inevitably Brown’s first goal of the season. It was almost identical to Bendtner’s opening goal for Sunderland.
The fourth official then indicated that there would be six minutes added on which was farcical seeing as it took Attwell over four minutes to replace Marriner. Add to that the inevitable time wasting by the visitors then there were also four yellow cards, five substitutes and three goals. We then had to chase the game in the time remaining so Warnock brought on Bothroyd for Connolly and in doing so left bigger gaps at the back. We were fortunate when Sessegnon went on a run that had started in his own half and ended with our defence parting like the Red Sea and the Frenchman hitting a rising shot that fortunately went straight at Kenny although such was the power he could only parry the ball before collecting it safely. Our last chance fell to Taarabt and as he went to pick his spot a defender got in a last ditch tackle and deflected the ball for a corner. Full-time: 2-3.
No doubt a cruel way to lose, but we had no answer to Sessegnon’s pace or skill all night and it has to be said that our back-four were culpable for all three goals. I will be as shocked as anyone if this back-four unit is still starting games this time next month. Or should I say the three central defenders we used. Traore had a very good game and showed some of our midfielder’s how to find colleagues with decent crosses into the box. But to concede twice from near post corners is criminal and the whole defence was to blame for that.
Team: Kenny 7, Young 6, Gabbidon 3, Connolly 4 (Bothroyd n/a), Traore 7 (Hall 6), Wright-Phillips 6 (Taarabt 7), Derry 6, Barton 6, Faurlin 8, Mackie 8, Helguson 8
MOTM: Faurlin. Never let his head drop and linked up well a few times with Traore which was our best route, or the only route it seemed.
Referee: Andre Marriner 7 (Stuart Attwell 4)
Attendance: 16,167 (including 1,281 Sunderland fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)
Paddy Kenny returned in goal and made some outstanding saves as had his deputy, Radek Cerny, previously. Still no 4-4-2 formation and I expected Adel Taarabt and/or DJ Campbell to start. As it happened it was a sort of 4-2-3-1. Taarabt was superb when he eventually came on for the 2nd half.
Despite a reasonable start, it wasn’t long before the visitors cut through us with relative ease. Referee Andre Marriner seemed to pull a hamstring and was replaced by Stuart Attwell. Our defensive frailties have been there for all to see, so why aren’t we easing the pressure their under and switch to something more positive? A 4-4-2 formation is long overdue and Armand Traore could for example revert to a different role where he would be more effective in my opinion.
The warning signs have been there for some time and the January sales can’t come quick enough, but in the meantime I hope for something more offensive minded. It was a pleasure however to see the maverick master following on from Sunday in the right frame of mind and lighting up Loftus Road.
Martin O’Neil may have injected Sunderland with some nerve. Last night, for the second time in his three-game tenure, he saw his side win in the final minutes, as Wes Brown headed a corner past Paddy Kenny to settle a thrillingly error-strewn game at Queen’s Park Rangers. It was the second free header, and the third preventable goal Rangers conceded, leaving manager Neil Warnock furious:
“Every goal was really disappointing,” he said. “I thought Christmas was on Sunday, not tonight. I just cannot believe how we’ve lost that game.” Warnock warned his defence he will have to buy to improve next month. “I know how we’ve lost it, and it’s up to me to remedy it,” he said. “I will be looking to improve the squad in January, and I know what I need and I’ll go and get them.”
O’Neil who had seen his men gifted a two-goal lead before giving it back within four second-half minutes, was relieved. “The performance was excellent for the most part”, he said. “I think we lost a bit of concentration when we scored.”
Even accounting for Warnock’s less ambitious approach, with Shaun Derry coming in for Jay Bothroyd, and the natural caution of an opposition under new management, the opening spell was devoid of enterprise. The ball barely touched the grass in the first 15 minutes, neither side seemingly wanting to be seen as selfish or hoarding in possession. Sunderland, not for the last time in the game, were more efficient from a corner. Nicklas Bendtner, who had just hit a post with a header, scored powerfully at the near post from Richardson’s kick in the 19th minute. Once they were ahead, Sunderland improved, and they finished the half well, passing with confidence and imagination. Rangers’ natural reaction was to bring on Adel Taarabt, unquestionably their most gifted player.
Individual errors, though, can undermine any tactical adjustment and so it proved when Stephane Sessegnon was generously invited to score Sunderland’s second. Danny Gabbidon misjudged a header on halfway, nodding the ball gently towards goal. Sessegnon ran gratefully through, rounded Kenny, and scored. Even at 2-0 the contest was more alive than it looked, especially with the threatening quality of Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlin. The Algerian remains Rangers’ most exciting player, dazzling Sunderland with his range of skills, but it was the Argentine whose incisive contributions dragged QPR level.
First, Faurlin found space on the left, measured his cross perfectly and Heidar Helguson, whom Warnock describes as “our Kevin Davies”, bundled the ball into the net. Four minutes later, Faurlin did it again. With the ball at his feet in a central position, he clipped a perfect pass to Helguson, again, at the far post. The Icelandic striker headed the ball back across goal where Jamie Mackie rammed it in with his head.
Rangers, though, lacked the required ruthlessness, as they have often done this season. The warnings were clear when Kenny was forced into excellent saves, first from Craig Gardner and then from Phil Bardsley. And, in the penultimate minute, their defensive negligence handed all three points to Sunderland. The fifth goal resembled the first: Richardson’s fierce corner being easily met at the near post. This time it was Wes Brown, heading to the far corner, but the outcome the same.
Jack Pitt-Brooke – The Independent