Sunderland’s second wind blows QPR out of cup – Report
Thursday, 22nd Sep 2016 13:01 by Clive Whittingham
A triple substitution from Sunderland manager David Moyes stopped a potential cup upset in its tracks at Loftus Road on Wednesday evening as QPR lost for the third game in a row.
Rarely has the outcome of a game hinged quite so much on the substitutions.
Premier League Sunderland were positive and proactive with theirs – making three all at once just after the hour when trailing 1-0. Their reward was a total change in the flow and pattern of the game, followed by a swift reversal of the scoreline. QPR dithered with theirs, failed to react swiftly enough to the opponent’s change of tack, and saw a well-deserved and hard-won 1-0 lead slide away.
Consequently, what looked for so long like being exactly what the team needed to boost its flagging confidence, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink required to cool talk about his future, soon turned into another morale and energy sapping night for a group of players who’ve now lost three on the bounce, and raised further questions about the performance of the man in charge.
For an hour though this was very decent. QPR were a bit raw and accident prone, but the tempo so sadly lacking over the last month was there, they attacked with decent numbers and purpose and they posed Sunderland one or two problems. It was incompetent, but it was quick and honest incompetence, leading to a very entertaining, if slightly chaotic match in front of a crowd buoyed by the cheap ticket offer and improved performance. After the dreary games here against Preston and Blackburn, then the annihilation by Newcastle, this was a blessed relief.
Rangers were led from the front well by Idrissa Sylla, making his first start after a summer move from Anderlecht. He was excellent, quite happily battering and barging his way through two Premier League centre backs (well, two centre backs who play in the Premier League anyway) by himself, winning more than his fair share of ball and using it intelligently. He’s all arms and legs and neck and elbows and needle – like a disgruntled giraffe – and he was very effective here.
That meant Conor Washington, finally being used as something other than the world’s smallest lone striker, actually got to see some decent ball in areas he could do something with it, coming in off the flank with Pole Pawel Wzsolek on the opposite side. With the plodding presence of Karl Henry removed from the centre of midfield, that area of the pitch livened up considerably too – Sandro a dominant presence to begin with, driving his team forward; Cousins benefitting from the increased speed and purpose of the team around him to turn in his best hour of the season so far.
Still the much maligned 4-2-3-1 set up then, but much more life and bounce about it than recent weeks.
Cousins was first to threaten for the R’s, bursting through the heart of the Sunderland side after a quarter of an hour and setting up Nasser El Khayati - filling Tjaronn Chery’s ‘ten’ role to no great effect whatsoever - who saw his trademark cut infield and shoot routine blocked away as usual. Moments later Sylla had a shot blocked and the ball fell loose to the Moroccan in the penalty box – this time visiting keeper Jordan Pickford made a fine save and Washington was beaten to the rebound by Man City loanee Jason Denayer.
Sylla beat two men and shot wide and then Wszolek did the same after two crunching tackles came out in Rangers’ favour. It was good. Raw, but good.
There were moments of blind terror as well. Duncan Watmore, who once beat Kevin De Bruyne into second place in a Kevin De Bruyne look-a-like contest, tore right through the middle of QPR after ten minutes and drew what looked at first glance like a fabulous save from Matt Ingram, preferred to Alex Smithies as we’ve become accustomed to in cup competitions.
Twice in the first half El Khayati fluffed his kick at a corner and twice it led to heart stopping Sunderland counter attacks with QPR bodies flying this way and that, clearances smashing into team mates and general all round nonsense and chaos. Ingram made another decent stop after 26 minutes from Jan Kirchhoff after Sunderland had been allowed to play on from an obviously offside position over by the Ellerslie Road stand and cut the ball back for the German to have a smack from the edge of the area.
So far, so entertaining, although after the past couple of weeks QPR were always likely to be grateful for small mercies.
The mercies got bigger though. An initial period of Sunderland pressure at the start of the second half, during which young Nico Hamalainen - on his QPR debut at left back - headed one looping effort off the line after it had deflected over Ingram, subsided soon enough. QPR should have taken the lead after 52 minutes when Cousins swung over a beautiful cross from the left and Washington headed a foot wide at the back post with the goal at his mercy.
No matter, Rangers kept at it and took the lead on the hour as Sandro hooked home skilfully after a corner had been nodded back to him on the edge of the area by the impressive Joel Lynch. Three goals in two games in this competition for the Brazilian this season, and he celebrated wildly at the Loft End as a section of the home support appealed through song for his more regular inclusion. He had, undoubtedly, made a huge difference to what we’ve seen from the centre of the midfield in most of our games this season.
When Washington teed up El Khayati for a shot at Pickford a minute later it felt like QPR were going for the jugular. The crowd sang about a return to Wembley and the LFW team started dreaming of our much craved European away days with Rangers once more. But the turning point of the game was still to come.
David Moyes’ reputation may have taken a bit of a battering since leaving Everton, and he’s got all on with perennial relegation strugglers Sunderland who have only taken one point from their first five matches, but he’d seen something he liked here and acted on it accordingly. Off went Lynden Gooch, Joel Asoro and Jason Denayer who was having a really tough time with Washington at this point. On came Lee Cattermole, Josh Maja and Donald Love. Into midfield went five Sunderland men, and out of the window went QPR’s chances of winning the game.
QPR had picked two youth team full backs for this one, Osman Kakay on the right and Hamalainen on the left. Kakay acquitted himself well throughout while Hamalainen, who is so far down the pecking order at QPR his name wasn’t even on the back of the programme, did nothing wrong and plenty right for an hour. But Moyes’ changes suddenly saw the Finnish youth international faced not only with £13.6m winger Didier NDong, but also a fresh overlapping full back.
This coincided with several other issues, chief among them Sandro hitting the wall. I don’t mean tiring, because he didn’t tire, he almost literally ground to a halt after an hour. From dominating proceedings one minute, he was suddenly unable to even move around the pitch, and at several points was even deeper than the two centre halves. For all the love he’s getting as the latest flavour of the month at the moment, having somebody who can play for you once a fortnight tops, and even then only for an hour at a time, isn’t anything to be hanging any hats from. He went from QPR's biggest asset to their biggest liability almost in the blink of an eye in this match.
This left Jordan Cousins, who'd been so dynamic in the first hour, overworked and the centre of the QPR midfield, outnumbered after the substitutions, collapsed completely. With no help coming from there, Hamalainen had only Conor Washington ahead of him for assistance, and as he tired, so the young full back became exposed. None of it was his fault, and some of the comments he’s had sent to him on Twitter are disgusting, but this was a tough final half hour for him.
A mad goal mouth scramble with a host of blocks and last ditch tackles ensued almost immediately. Within two minutes of the changes Sunderland were level. Paddy McNair was able to run away from Kakay in third gear, play a one two with Watmore on the edge of the box, waltz around Sandro - who for some inexplicable reason was almost as far back as Matt Ingram causing gaping holes through the midfield - and slide in a smooth equaliser.
Cattermole drew a save from Ingram with a disguised shot. The resulting corner flashed right through the six-yard box. QPR’s problems were mounting, reinforcements were needed desperately, a change of system to stop the overloading on Hamalainen was required, but substitutions were slow in coming, drip fed out over the next 25 minutes, and all of them like for like. The excellent Sylla, admittedly after a hefty whack from O’Shea, was replaced by Polter who was nowhere near as effective. Washington, tiring but not to the same extent as Sandro, and still a good deal more effective than El Khayati who was a passenger by this point, went off for Luongo. Ariel Borysiuk, so effective in the second half at Huddersfield at the weekend in exactly the position QPR were now struggling in, remained on the bench.
These changes achieved nothing, and so Sunderland kept coming, taking the lead with ten minutes to go after Sandro conceded possession on the halfway line, NDong got going at Hamalainen and forced a save from Ingram, and McNair ran in unmarked once again to sweep in the rebound. No goals in his professional career before this, QPR had treated the former Man Utd man to two in ten minutes.
Chery came on for Cousins with five minutes left, and three minutes of time added on at the end of the game was mostly pissed away by first Kirchhoff and then Pickford pretending to be injured, but QPR had blown it long before that.
Hasselbaink’s post match “we knew we’d tire towards the end” frustrated almost as much as the failure to do anything to counter that. A goal up, playing well, against a struggling Premier League team, at home… the way QPR allowed this one to slip away with simply a shrug and a “we knew we’d get tired” grated. This was a chance to extend a rare cup run, and we blew it.
It remains to be seen whether the positives – Kakay at right back, the difference it makes not having Karl Henry in the central midfield, Sandro’s good first hour, Washington being used in a position where he can get the ball out of his feet and have a bit of a dig, Sylla leading the line – are taken into this weekend’s game against Birmingham, or whether we just revert to the status quo, in both team selection and style of performance.
If it’s the latter, and the result doesn’t go well, don’t expect the church to take it well.
QPR: Ingram 6; Kakay 6, Caulker 6, Lynch 7, Hamalainen 5; Sandro 6, Cousins 6 (Chery 85, -); Wzsolek 6, El Khayati 4, Washington 6 (Luongo 79, 6); Sylla 7 (Polter 74, 5)
Subs Not Used: Smithies, Onuoha, Borysiuk, Paul
Goals: Sandro 60 (assisted Lynch)
Sunderland: Pickford 6; Denayer 5 (Love 69, 6), O’Shea 6, Djilobodji 6, van Aanholt 6; NDong 8, Kirchhoff 6, McNair 8, Gooch 5 (Cattermole 69, 7); Watmore 6, Asoro 5 (Maja 69, 7)
Subs not used: Jones, Mika, Kone, Greenwood
Goals: McNair 70 (assisted Watmore), 80 (assisted NDong)
QPR Star Man – Idrissa Sylla 7 Very impressed with him, giving two experienced and physical centre backs a tough game, holding the ball up and bringing others into play well, working hard. Promising.
Referee – Peter Bankes (Merseyside) 8 Excellent for almost the whole game, letting a fairly wild encounter run its bumbling course unchecked to the benefit of the neutrals. Seemed to lose the plot a bit in injury time, having only added three minutes to the end of the game he then didn’t really seem to know what to do about Sunderland intentionally running down all of that with several spurious injuries. Overall though, very decent indeed.
Attendance – 14,301 (2,000 Sunderland approx) Good to see a proper crowd in for a cup game, and the whole experience and atmosphere was much the better for it. Hopefully the club have taken note for future cup ties. Credit so many Sunderland fans travelling so far for a League Cup tie when their team is playing poorly – their reward, an away trip even further to Southampton in the next round. Poor bastards.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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