QUEENS Park Rangers have kept an away clean sheet for the first time since September 2011 as they frustrated Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Harry Redknapp did at the first time of asking what Mark Hughes failed to do in nearly a year of management as Rangers held firm in front of their hearty followers from West London.
Sunderland by comparison were hounded from the field after scarcely threatening Julio Cesar, then substitute Rob Green as the Brazilian was withdrawn at half time.
Rangers threatened through Jamie Mackie, Djibril Cissé and Shaun Wright-Phillips with Stephane M’Bia the heartbeat of a 4-2-3-1 formation that firmly stifled the Mackem threat.
Redknapp will go home heartened by the manner of display and the green shoots of recovery will hope to be all the more prominent against Aston Villa this weekend.
Harry Redknapp made three changes from the side that fought valiantly at Manchester United with Jose Bosingwa, Samba Diakité and Esteban Granero coming in for Kieron Dyer, Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlín.
Julio Cesar started behind a back four of Bosingwa, Clint Hill, Ryan Nelsen and Armand Traoré. Diakité and Stephane M’Bia comprised the midfield pairing with Adel Taarabt, Granero and Jamie Mackie playing in behind lone forward Djibril Cissé.
Sunderland made one change from the side that crashed to a 4-2 defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion with Craig Gardner coming in for Jack Colback. Simon Mignolet started behind a defence of Phil Bardsley, Matthew Kilgallon, Carlos Cuellar and Danny Rose.
The midfield comprised of Sebastian Larsson, Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner and Adam Johnson with Stephane Sessegnon playing just off lone forward Steven Fletcher – a striker with six goals to his name already this season.
KICK OFF: SUNDERLAND v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The dawn of a new era for Queens Park Rangers with Harry Redknapp taking the helm for the first time this season. Whatever your opinion of the Mark Hughes regime, the hotseat has been taken on by a more experienced manager, tipped for England only months ago.
The former Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur manager has stirred the interests and passions of supporters once more, as QPR were now at a club not sinking without a trace, but with a degree of purpose and target.
As the players took to the field under inclement conditions at the Stadium of Light it was Rangers that started the brighter and started to take control of possession, much to the chagrin of the impatient home support.
Stephane M’Bia sat at the heart of midfield and made his presence known in the early offing, using his sizeable strength to retain the ball and distribute accordingly. Indeed Rangers’ positivity stirred Jamie Mackie to send in a cross of genuine quality.
Carving out some space down the right flank, the former Plymouth Argyle man clipped a ball to the far post from deep only for Djibril Cissé to send a tame header straight into the arms of the grateful Simon Mignolet – a golden opportunity early on for the visitors.
Sunderland’s first effort of the clash was also tame by comparison. Ryan Nelsen was the unfortunate party penalised for a foul just outside the area, but Craig Gardner’s speculative drive flew well wide of the left-hand upright.
The home side were forced into a change as Lee Cattermole had to withdraw with an injury complaint and it was Jack Colback – dropped after the defeat against West Bromwich Albion that came on in his stead.
Rangers pressed further still as Cissé’s snap-shot against his former club brought the best from the Belgian stopper Mignolet, tipping the curling drive from the left, wide of his left-hand upright – the resultant corner was an inevitable disappointment, unable to beat the first man.
Sunderland were offering little in the way of attacking riposte, Steven Fletcher’s tame cent well fielded by the underworked Julio Cesar, with the QPR back four looking dominant for the first time in terms of set-piece organisation.
Cissé was Rangers focal point in attack and was hoping to fare better than his disastrous performance last season – culminating in his dismissal. His run and snap-shot forced a block from point blank range by Matthew Kilgallon for another corner.
Rangers were contented to let Sunderland keep the ball in areas, while pressing the ball and forcing the inevitable mistake – once again this was prompting nerves from the stand to spill over into frustration much to the joy of Redknapp and the visiting side.
A professional half could have yielded a goal for either side with firstly Sunderland testing the visitors’ resolve – Stephane Sessegnon capitalised on a rare lapse from the QPR defence to break clear into the area.
The Frenchman’s resultant shot stung the palms of Cesar, before Jose Bosingwa recovered to snuff out any rebound at the second attempt with an excellent reactive tackle from point blank range. Then mayhem ensued in the Mackems penalty area as the hosts’ goal lived a charmed life.
The creativity and persistence of Adel Taarabt saw him fend off two men before laying Mackie in behind the Sunderland rearguard. He should have done better with his resultant effort that saw Mignolet sprawl admirably to his feet and deny the forward.
The ball then dropped to Taarabt once more on the edge of the area, firstly he powered a shot that cannoned back to the Moroccan, then he attempted a curling drive that was once more fielded by the Sunderland back-line – a let off for the beleaguered hosts.
Cesar seemed to come off worse from his useful first half stop, and had trouble kicking with M’Bia stepping into those duties. As he left the field slowly for the break, it appeared that he would have a problem continuing.
Redknapp and the visiting support that his side attacked, could be very proud of their side’s efforts in the opening period and time would tell whether that effort alone could yield the desired first three points of the 2012-13 season.
HALF TIME: SUNDERLAND 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Indeed the change came to fruition as Cesar was replaced by Rob Green – the former West Ham United man in his first league appearance since the defeat at Manchester City earlier this season – he acknowledged the applause of the visiting faithful as he took up his position.
If Sunderland had been given a rocket at half time, it was hardly noticeable as QPR were allowed to pick up where they left off. Spreading the play effectively towards Traoré, the Senegalese international carved out space down the left.
His resultant cross was headed goalward by Esteban Granero, but in truth the effort was tame as Mignolet fielded the header with consummate ease. Next up Taarabt fired a powerful drive goal-bound only to be blocked by the unfortunate Cissé.
Diakité committed his first foul of the encounter, and was given a yellow card for his troubles – he is sadly a marked man with officials with an ill-deserved reputation that seems to precede him but nevertheless another booking for the Malian.
A powerful Phil Bardsley drive was ably blocked by Ryan Nelsen as the QPR defence continued to hold firm from set-pieces. Cissé even managing to engineer a clearance from a Larsson set-piece to underline the hard work that Redknapp must have done in recent days.
M’Bia and Diakité played a neat exchange outside the area for the former to let fly from distance as the ball drifted narrowly wide of the left-hand upright – it was a stinging drive that threatened more, but showed signs of promise for the fixture and the blossoming midfield partnership.
Rob Green had to be at his best to deny Fletcher with 25 minutes remaining as Johnson’s centre saw the Scotsman and Green on a direct collision course – the England international threw himself bravely at the ball to parry effectively from close range and preserve parity.
Ji Sung Park – returning to the bench for the first time since injury – came on for Diakité who was walking the tightrope as a marked man by the officials, but it certainly didn’t stifle the more impressive visitors in a fixture that ebbed and flowed.
A moment of controversy ensued as Hill sunk to his knees as Colback surged forward but withdrew his challenge as the midfielder surged on. He threw himself beyond Hill’s now retracted leg and an unsighted Andre Mariner gave the decision and cautioned the defender.
Sunderland will look upon this as poetic justice given the decision to hand Liam Ridgewell a farcical penalty for West Bromwich Albion. A tactful effort could have been taken on by Johnson or Fletcher, but Gardner elected to blast straight into the wall.
That effort rather served to epitomise the lack of creativity and ingenuity in the hosts arsenal on the day – and the home supporters in their attempt to offer encouragement rather cut frustrated figures in the stands at their side’s desperate second half thus far.
In an attempt to revive fortunes Martin O’Neill withdrew Johnson with James McClean coming on. Colback’s attempt was stifled by the tireless M’Bia who held together the midfield in marvellous fashion throughout as both sides traded blows from crosses.
Taarabt was starting to visibly tire and began to gift possession to Sunderland despite his attacking intent. His replacement was Shaun Wright-Phillips who slotted in down the left-flank – meanwhile Louis Saha replaced Gardner for the hosts as they doubled up their front-line.
Rangers started to tire a tad and Larsson saw his rasping drive well fielded by Green – who has had the pressure visibly lifted since the arrival of the Brazilian. His contribution was assured despite fleeting opportunities to field.
The final opportunity of the fixture fell to QPR as Wright-Phillips nearly rounded off a fine move, breaking wide right of the area to shoot first time and draw a smart stop for the harder worked of the stoppers, Mignolet.
Cissé thrashed at a far post cross in theatric fashion to round off the encounter as a spectacle, the relief of a clean sheet – their first away from home since the 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in September 2011 – was evident for QPR fans and players.
Sunderland however were roundly heckled by the home support who reflect on more home points dropped. Redknapp can be proud of his charges as he’s plugged one particular gap and now must look to a first win against Aston Villa on Saturday.
FULL TIME: SUNDERLAND 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Simon Mignolet, Phil Bardsley, Matthew Kilgallon, Carlos Cuellar, Danny Rose, Sebastian Larsson, Craig Gardner (Louis Saha 78), Lee Cattermole (Jack Colback 6), Adam Johnson (James McClean 70), Stephane Sessegnon, Steven Fletcher.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Julio Cesar (Rob Green 46), Jose Bosingwa, Ryan Nelsen, Clint Hill, Armand Traoré, Samba Diakité (Park Ji Sung 65), Stephane M’Bia, Jamie Mackie, Esteban Granero, Adel Taarabt (Shaun Wright-Phillips 77), Djibril Cissé.