Martin O'Neill 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'Neill, 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 the 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 Stéphane Sessègnon was generously invited to score Sunderland's second. Danny Gabbidon misjudged a header on halfway, nodding the ball gently towards goal. Sessègnon 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.
Queen's Park Rangers (4-2-3-1): Kenny, Young, Gabbidon, Connolly (Bothroyd, 90+2), Traoré (Hall, 80); Derry, Faurlin; Wright-Phillips (Taarabt, 46), Barton, Mackie; Helguson. Substitutes not used Cerny (gk), Hill, Campbell, Smith.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Westwood; O'Shea, Bramble, Brown, Bardsley; Larsson (Gardner, 75), Vaughan (Colback, 71), Cattermole, Richardson; Sessegnon; Bendtner. Substitutes not used Carson (gk); Kilgallon, Ji, McClean, Elmohamady.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).Reuse content