Harry Redknapp’s first game in charge of QPR saw 375 hardy fans brave the floods and the cold at the Stadium of Light on an inclement Tuesday night in November. Earlier in the day the club’s Press team tweeted the likelihood of further changes in Redknapp’s first selection. Surprisingly Jose Bosingwa was recalled in favour of Kieron Dyer, whilst Samba Diakite and Esteban Granero were given the nod over Shaun Derry and Ale Faurlin.
The formation was advertised as a 4-2-3-1, but it quickly became clear that the organisation was 4-1-4-1. Stephane Mbia provided protection for the back-four and Djibril Cisse was the lone man up top, with Jamie Mackie in particular getting forward to support.
Given that the two teams on display were short on confidence, this was an open and entertaining game. Rangers just shaded the first 45 minutes with plenty of neat attacking play. The away team’s prospects were quickly looking brighter after Lee Cattermole, Sunderland’s pugnacious midfielder, was substituted after five minutes after the recurrence of an injury picked up on the weekend.
Rangers controlled a lot of possession with Mackie finding space early on and Cisse forcing the issue with a couple of early chances. Perhaps the Rangers striker’s best chance of the game came on 11 minutes with a low curling effort bringing a good save from Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
It was a half with a good ebb and flow, with both sides playing some neat attractive football and defending well. Rangers once again seemed to lack the cutting edge which had eluded them for most of the season so far. Adel Taarabt frustrated and excited in equal measure. His night was summed up by two back-heeled flicks in succession; the first came off spectacularly whilst the second yielded possession nearly leading to a chance on goal for the home team.
Granero looked much happier restored to the centre of midfield. Diakite made an impression with his now trademark drifting runs and fierce challenges (for which he picked up an obligatory booking later on in the game). The centre of the park was given extra steel by the impressive Mbia, who appears to be taking the opportunity to establish himself as the ‚Äúgo-to‚Äù utility man in defence and midfield.
Armand Traore had a magnificent game, and was instrumental in the R’s going forward as he was in snuffing out runs by Stephane Sessegnon. His performance contrasted with yet another limp showing from Bosingwa, who was tentative in defence whilst shy in going forward (whether by design or chance).
A pivotal period of play took place just before the break. QPR’s best chance of the game came seven minutes before half-time when Adel Taarabt broke free and put Jamie Mackie through on goal. Mignolet made a great save which fell to Taarabt, only for Matthew Kilgallon to block. Two minutes later, Steven Fletcher spurned the chance to put the Black Cats in front after beating the offside trap, only to force a tremendous reaction save from Cesar. The R’s keeper appeared to hurt himself making the save, with Ryan Nelsen deputising as goal-kick taker moments later.
It was no surprise at the beginning of the second period to see Robert Green substituted on, and received a tremendous reception from the R’s faithful. QPR made much heavier weather of the second-half with chances few and far between. The Rangers defensive unit coped well however, Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen continued their good work of the first-half with Traore and Mbia ably assisting. Green’s distribution was unfortunately risible at times, although he did make one vital stop of a close range header from Fletcher halfway through the second 45.
Sunderland, at the urging of the Mackem crowd, pressed on seeking a winner, but like Rangers in the first-half lacked the penetration and the spark of inspiration to force an advantage.
At the end of the game the majority of R’s players, plus Harry himself, came over to show their appreciation of the vociferous travelling support. Apart from Bosingwa, who was first off down the tunnel and the shelter of the dressing room.
Overall, this was another step forward for Rangers following an improved display at Old Trafford on Saturday, and this time they got a point for their efforts. The new era has made a decent enough start, although many R’s fans watching felt that we will need a little more craft and tenacity against teams like this if we are to have serious thoughts of surviving the drop. Villa at home on Saturday now becomes critical…
Team: Cesar 7 (Green 6), Traore 8, Hill 7, Nelsen 7, Bosingwa 6, Diakite 7 (Park Ji-Sung 6), Taarabt 7 (Wright-Phillips 6), Granero 7, Mbia 7, Cisse 6, Mackie 7
Subs Not Used: Ferdinand, Fabio, Derry, Hoilett
QPR MOM – Traore. A superb full 90 minute performance kept the lively Sessegnon largely quiet and provided strong attacking options.
Sunderland MOM – Rose. Traore’s counterpart looked absolute quality and recognised by many Mackem fans as their player-of-the-season so far.
Attendance: 36,513 (including 375 QPR fans)