Football: Sunderland are denied by Sheron's late double

Sunderland 2 Queens Park Rangers 2
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The Independent Online
THOSE Premier passions were stirring again on Wearside last night - before Mike Sheron made it a painful affair for the locals in the sold- out Stadium of Light.

Victory would have put Sunderland within a point of Nottingham Forest in the race for Premiership places at the First Division's summit. They had the three points in the red and white bag, thanks to two Niall Quinn goals inside 54 minutes. But then, to the chagrin of all but the handful of Londoners in the 40,014 crowd, Peter Reid's team suffered a costly attack of nerves.

It started with Chris Makin's apology of a back-pass, which allowed Sheron to nip in and score in the 75th minute. Then, with seven minutes remaining, the home guard dithered in Corporal Jones fashion, and Sheron poked in Steve Slade's header.

If Rangers deserved their precious point it was for persistence alone. Sunderland ought to have won with ease. They remain in second place, three points adrift of Forest, but glancing nervously back towards Charlton, who are now just two points behind.

If the icy wind and rain was less than welcoming so, for Lee Clark, was the sight of Vinnie Jones in the Rangers midfield. As Sunderland's playmaker recalled before kick-off, his introduction to senior football as a 15- year-old reserve-team Newcastle player was a broken nose courtesy of the QPR player-coach.

Last night Jones was the one on the suffering end, metaphorically at least, as Clark dictated the ebb and flow. The former England Under-21 international would have put Quinn clear through the middle in the sixth minute had Karl Ready, the QPR captain, not made a vital intervention with his right foot.

Rangers were twice saved by Karl Harper, who denied Kevin Ball and then Quinn before handing Sunderland the lead after 28 minutes. It came just as the Londoners were threatening to break through, via the pace and directness of Tony Scully on the right flank.

Harper had the ball in his grasp when Allan Johnston cut it back from the left byline but, with Neil Ruddock in close attendance, he dropped it at the feet of Quinn. The Irishman could hardly believe his good fortune as he hooked in his 12th goal of the season.

It could have been worse for Ray Harford's ragged side before half-time. Only the leniency of referee Brian Coddington allowed them to reach the break with a full complement of players.

Sunderland maintained their attacking momentum after the interval, Clark and Quinn both failing to exploit breaches of the Rangers defence before Johnston was played in on the left edge of the area by Nicky Summerbee's sweeping cross-field pass. A first-time shot might have beaten Harper, but Johnston chose to cut inside and shoot with his right foot, by which time sufficient cover had arrived to block his effort.

Not until the 50th minute did Rangers manage to trouble Lionel Perez in the Sunderland goal. They did so to stunning effect, though, Sheron forcing the Frenchman to make a flying reflex save to keep out the first- time volley with which he met Scully's right-wing cross.

If Sheron and his colleagues harboured hopes of a fight-back they appeared to be quashed four minutes later when Johnston ventured down the left and crossed to the far post. It was a perfect angled ball and Quinn duly applied the perfect side-footed finish.

Rangers refused to give up, however, and 15 minutes from time Sheron pounced on an underhit back pass from Makin to beat Perez from 12 yards.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Perez; Makin, Holloway, Williams, Gray; Summerbee, Clark, Ball, Johnston; Quinn, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Rae, Dichio, Craddock.

Queens Park Rangers (4-4-2): Harper; Bardsley, Ready, Ruddock, Barraclough; Kulcsar, Jones, Quashie, Scully; Sheron, Gallen. Substitutes not used: Slade, Rose, Morrow.

Referee: B Coddington (Sheffield)