QPR 1 Sunderland 2
Tuesday 28th November, 2006
Tuesday night in Shepherd's Bush saw a duel between two recently installed Championship managers dealing with the burden of great expectations. Former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland superstar Roy Keane had been in charge at Sunderland for exactly three months, working to regain the fanatically supported club’s place in the Premiership, while ex-QPR and England midfielder Gregory had eased Rangers’ relegation worries with a five game unbeaten run. In the event, however, Rangers were on the back foot most of the night and Sunderland rightly claimed the three points despite some early controversy.
Many Hoops fans were fuming when, in the 17th minute, the visitors went in front as a half-cleared corner was miscued back into the area over a melee of advancing players and onto the head of a barely onside Daryl Murphy, who simply guided the ball past goalkeeper Simon Royce. Irritation boiled into fury as an immediate reply despatched by striker Dexter Blackstock from a right wing free kick was chalked off by an equally marginal decision. Half-time replays suggested both goals should have stood, but in the interim Sunderland had pressed their advantage and made it two-nil in time added on for the ceremonial removal from the field of a brace of plastic water bottles hurled at the match officials from the stands. Grant Leadbitter dismantled the offside trap before rounding the keeper and stroking the ball home.
Gregory refused to blame referee Uriah Rennie for an interval deficit that would prove too great to overcome:
All in all, the result was the right result on the night… They should have won by a lot more than they did.
Sunderland indeed spurned a number of highly presentable chances, including a late miss by Ross Wallace that raised a smile from his famously fierce boss. “Well, at least he’ll probably make one of them blooper videos, won’t he?” said Keane, adding with a wink, “He says it bobbled.”
By the time Wallace side-footed past that empty net Sunderland were looking nervously over their shoulders as an accomplished close range turn and finish from rumoured Liverpool target Roy Jones in the 73rd minute had given the home side hope. Jones, a striker, had come on at half-time for recent wing sensation Lee Cook, who succumbed on this occasion to badly bruised ribs, and was a presence to be reckoned with alongside the dynamic Blackstock, the star of Rangers’ show on the night. Nick Ward, astute provider of Jones’s goal, almost salvaged a point with a vicious low drive in injury time, but Darren Ward held it bravely.
Gregory believes he knows the main reason behind two home defeats in quick succession:
That’s the price you pay for success… [The players] were expecting to lose most games and suddenly they go out and pick up a few points. We won three on the trot, we come back home and play Coventry and everyone’s expecting us to beat them, particularly the home crowd, and they’ve not handled it very well.
Still, he can point to a side in a much better position than when he arrived only a dozen games ago and there was plenty of effort on display, even if Sunderland at times overwhelmed his team with superior strength and movement. With players such as Marc Bircham to come back and some energetic young talent up front there is plenty of hope for a brighter second half to the season.
Aerial shot of Loftus Road via eviltwin's Flickr stream.