Redknapp reign off to steady start
Published 28/11/2012 | 05:00
Harry Redknapp began his mission to rescue bottom-placed QPR with a well-deserved point and a team performance brimming with graft if little craft on a wet Wearside.
QPR looked more organised and purposeful, but they need a more potent force in attack than Djibril Cisse on this evidence. The determined defender and captain, Ryan Nelsen, was the pick of the hooped visitors, who finished the happier.
The knot of 300 QPR fans looking rather lonely up high up in one corner of the rain-swept Stadium of Light had launched into "Harry Redknapp's blue and white army" early on.
Their new manager had shaped his players up in compact 4-5-1 fashion with Jamie Mackie and the left-sided Adel Taarabt giving the width. Cisse played the lone frontrunner, soon enjoying a good chance from a Taarabt cross but heading downwards and failing to trouble Simon Mignolet.
Redknapp had been working on a plan to protect a porous defence better, stationing Stephane Mbia in front of the back four with Samba Diakite and occasionally Esteban Granero dropping deep.
The former Spurs manager had also called for "effort," and his players certainly did not let him down in the first half. Even Taarabt, hardly renowned for leaving his shirt etched in sweat and grass-stains, put in a strong shift of work, although there was one moment when the Moroccan lost the ball after one step-over too many and then tracked back with all the urgency of an elderly rambler enjoying the scenery.
Redknapp shrugged his shoulders in annoyance, but it was a rare show of lethargy by Taarabt. QPR need his creativity. Two players who can give QPR some attacking threat, Kieron Dyer (from right-back) and Ale Faurlin failed to make even the bench, despite both having trained on Monday.
So much is right about Sunderland from good stadium to strong fan-base, from an experienced manager in O'Neill to a sensible owner in Ellis Short. So, it has been strange seeing them struggling, especially after the substantial summer investment.
They have sufficient ability in their ranks. Adam Johnson has still to do his talent justice, but gave glimpses of his undoubted quality here, delivering some good passes and covering back to help Danny Rose in an opening half that was far from a classic.
Sunderland were forced into an early change when Lee Clattermole came off worse in a 50-50 with Mbia, hobbling off rubbing his knee.
QPR were playing with greater conviction than in recent weeks. Cisse seemed to be on a shoot-on-sight mission, forcing Mignolet into a low, sprawling save. Then Sunderland enjoyed a promising period, Johnson swinging in a free-kick that Carlos Cuellar flicked on and Julio Cesar tipped over.
Taarabt then almost forced the breakthrough, teasing the ball behind the defence for Mackie, whose heavy first touch enabled Mignolet to rush out and block. Taarabt twice had chances with rebounds, but Sunderland's rearguard stood firm.
Chances came and went. Johnson, showing neat control, released Steven Fletcher but Cesar saved well, although he seemed to stretch his groin and was replaced by Robert Green at the interval.
Redknapp was joined in the dugout on occasion by his faithful assistants, Joe Jordan and Kevin Bond, whose deals have clearly been done. They watched as Mbia bulldozed forward and shot wide.
They looked on nervously as Johnson won a corner off Jose Bosingwa. Seb Larsson lifted in the corner which was met powerfully by Fletcher but Green saved superbly. This was a big moment for Green, the former England 'keeper, whose move to Loftus Road had immediately been stymied by the arrival of Cesar.
His goal came under intermittent threat. O'Neill withdrew Johnson, sending on Ireland winger James McClean, whose development as a rising star has been slowed as opposing right-backs have learned to show him on to his weaker, right foot. Yet some of Sunderland's best deliveries from the left came from Rose, who impressed attacking and defending.
Towards the end, frustration seeped on to the home terraces and the home dug-out. O'Neill leapt around, anxious at his team's lack of a cutting edge. Sunderland fans booed briefly at the final whistle as their QPR counterparts celebrated the point and the performance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)