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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

No end of misery in sight for shot-shy Sunderland

Rock-bottom Black Cats lose again

Sunderland's calamity cat Jason Steele
1 of 1

Sky Bet Championship

QPR 1 Sunderland 0
Eze 62

If one moment summed up Sunderland's shoddy season it was surely goalkeeper Jason Steele's red card against QPR which turned a potential draw into another defeat to leave the beleaguered Black Cats as short as 1-10 in places to suffer successive relegations.

Sunderland, effectively five points from safety given 21st-placed Barnsley's vastly superior goal difference, were reasonably comfortable in a truly awful opening period at Loftus Road but Steele's comedic sending-off four minutes into the second half changed everything.

A long, hoofed ball up the field appeared to offer little danger until Steele charged out of his area unnecessarily to clear, misjudged the bounce, and as the ball looped over his head the calamitous cat handled for the most obvious red card you could wish to see.

Just over ten minutes later the game was decided by Eberechi Ezu's first QPR goal and by the end Sunderland were lucky it was only 1-0. Matt Smith headed wide and missed a one-on-one, while substitute keeper Lee Camp saved well from Bright Osayi-Samuel.

Sunderland left west London without registering a shot on target, although George Honeyman's decent opportunity in injury-time was blocked as Chris Coleman's outfit staged a commendable late rally. 

Coleman praised Sunderland for their grit and for not folding after conceding but those should be basic requirements of any side. They have triumphed once in 2018 and still have to face three of the top five (Wolves, Fulham and Derby) in the run-in.

There is still time to launch another great escape, but at Loftus Road there was little evidence of a team heading in the right direction.

Coleman's side surprised Rangers with a 4-1-4-1 formation and when it was 11 v 11 they contained a limited home without threatening a goal themselves with Ashley Fletcher isolated in attack.

Fletcher's substitution was ironically cheered by the large travelling Sunderland fan base and, while he struggled to make an impact, the on-loan Middlesbrough man lacked support and was asked to chase long, aimless balls. Clearly lacking in confidence, Fletcher does not look like a man about to end a 19-match drought.

However, he was not alone in struggling and, without having seen him in previous games, the treatment at QPR seemed a bit harsh on an inexperienced 22-year-old still learning his trade in the most difficult of circumstances.

Others have to take more responsibility and it is perhaps indicative of Sunderland's poor management at all levels that John O'Shea, soon to be 37 and looking every bit his age, is still in the starting 11.

O'Shea was doubtful for this clash and may have been handicapped by an injury, but there were no such excuses for Lee Cattermole's performance in central midfield.

Sitting so deep at times he was almost a third centre-back, Cattermole was poor. You've heard of the holding midfielder and the midfield playmaker, well Cattermole invented a new role for himself known as the midfield pointer.

Cattermole seemed to spend the entire 90 minutes pointing at where he wanted others to be, a sure sign he can't get around the pitch himself and is looking for others to protect him.

As for the positives, Liverpool loanee Ovie Ejaria showed bits of promise and the visiting Sunderland supporters remain hopelessly but admirably devoted to following the team. 

That, however, is about it and there is no end in sight to the misery.

Three of the current top four in Sky Bet League One were relegated from the Championship last season so there is a massive drop in class but it is impossible to be confident of the Black Cats bouncing straight back should the Wearsiders drop down another level.

The opposition

Rangers eventually did enough to win but Steele's red card was an undeserved fillip early in the second period after the worst 45 minutes I have seen this season. Neither team had a shot.

Goalscorer Eze looked the biggest threat for QPR and balls up to target-man striker Smith can cause problems but manager Ian Holloway admitted: "We didn't play very well."

Unless there is a drastic improvement it would be a surprise if the mid-table Hoops gained anything from their next couple of matches, at Aston Villa on Tuesday before a derby at Fulham on Saturday.

Teams - QPR 4-2-3-1: Smithies; Furlong, Onuoha, Robinson (Lynch 46), Bidwell; Luongo, Scowen; Smyth (Osayi-Samuel), Freeman, Eze (Manning 89); Smith.

Sunderland 4-1-4-1: Steele; Matthews, Kone, O'Shea, Oviedo; Cattermole; Asoro (Camp 51), Williams (McGeady 30), Ejaria, Honeyman; Fletcher (Maja 87).

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You've heard of the holding midfielder and the midfield playmaker, well Cattermole invented a new role for himself known as the midfield pointer
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