Mark Hughes was in competition with Martin O'Neill just under four months ago for the vacant managerial position at the Stadium of Light; Queen's Park Rangers were then five places and five points above Sunderland.
Much is made of the unpredictability of England's top division. On Saturday evening a debate was taking place in the North East about which mattered more, a team on the brink of an FA Cup semi-final (if Sunderland beat Everton tomorrow evening) or one that could return to the Championship and see around £35m slashed off their annual budget.
Clubs can recover from missing a day of romance at Wembley. Many do not when they tumble out of the Premier League, especially when there has been such significant spending as that which took place at Loftus Road in January.
Then there was a conscious decision at QPR to invest, under their new manager. The two red cards of Djibril Cissé have certainly not helped Hughes's cause. By the time Cissé returns next month he will have missed, through suspension, seven of the 12 games he was signed to make a difference in. That alone is damaging, but the general lack of cohesion among the rest of Rangers' new players is further vindication of O'Neill's decision to pretty much go with what he inherited. Sunderland's squad, like QPR's, was injected with new blood totalling double figures in the summer. That is already considerable upheaval, as Steve Bruce found out at the cost of his job. A second influx would have been a huge gamble, so instead O'Neill has drawn the very best from what was at his disposal.
Such players as Stéphane Sessègnon and James McClean have settled and flourished so well it was difficult to pick which of the pair was the game's most important player. McClean edged it because he set up the first goal for Nicklas Bendtner, scored the second and was involved in the third, when Sessègnon rounded off a sweeping move. McClean signed a new contract on Friday, having joined Sunderland from the League of Ireland last summer, and perhaps his fresh vitality and sheer enjoyment infects those around him. "I'm pinching myself, because it's going so well," said McClean. "People have asked about my energy levels, but I just put it down to being young and enthusiastic and full of adrenaline. This last year has been a whirlwind for me."
Contrast that to lifeless Rangers, who grabbed a late consolation from Taye Taiwo, and more so Cissé, now at his seventh club, who departed the field in the 55th minute as if the world was against him, raging after an awful challenge on Fraizer Campbell had quite rightly brought him a red card.
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 6/10, O'SHEA 4, KYRGIAKOS 6, TURNER 7, BRIDGE 6, GARDNER 6, VAUGHAN 6, COLBACK 7, McCLEAN 8, BENDTNER 7, SESSEGNON 8
QPR: KENNY 5, TAIWO 6, FERDINAND 6, ONUOHA 5, YOUNG 6, TAARABT 5, DERRY 6, DIAKITE 5, MACKIE 6, CISSE 3, ZAMORA 5
Scorers: Sunderland Bendtner 41, McClean 70, Sessèg-non 76. QPR Taiwo 79. Subs: Sund Campbell 6 (O'Shea, 27), Meyler 5 (Bridge, 70), Elmohamady (Bendtner, 82). QPR Buzsaky 4 (Diakite, 53), Wright-Phillips 5 (Taarabt, 60), Bothroyd (Zamora, 82). Booked: Sund Kyrgiakos, Bridge. QPR, Diakite, Young, Zamora. Sent off: QPR Cissé (53). Man of match McClean. Match rating 6/10.
Poss: Sund 56% QPR 44%. Attempts on target: Sund 8 QPR 6. Referee M Jones (Cheshire). Attendance 37,128.Reuse content