In a week when the clubs Irish connection has once more been thrust into the spotlight, it was 2 of the ‘old-guard’ that got the goals for today’s crucial win that means only a remarkable set of results would see Sunderland not get promoted form hereon in.
However, to just attach these 2 with the side of last season for instance is unfair as, along with Nosworthy, Collins and a few others they are very much part of this new Sunderland side who seem incapable of knowing when to give up. The fact that Whitehead virtually always plays and whenever something extra is needed Leadbitter gets summoned is an indication of what Keane thinks of these 2 in particular, and they came up with the goods today.
After Whitehead was put through for the opener after just 7 minutes with a great ball from Connolly it seemed destined to be a day for several goals and a comfortable win, however as the Hull game proved things are never so easy and despite being on top for virtually the whole of the first half a series of near misses and a little lack of quality with the final ball saw good opportunities missed. Murphy and Yorke both had great chances from corners that seemed harder to miss than to score, but miss they did.
Then mid-way through the first half, Simpson gave an easy ball away on the right and QPR broke away. It left Ward exposed and as Blackstock rounded the keeper, Ward brought him down and gave the penalty away which Rowlands duly converted. It was their first effort on goal but was just what they were looking for and it was clear what their attitude would be hereon in. It was also a reminder that no matter how on top you are you’ve always got to be on your game or you’ll get bitten, even in this league.
To be fair to QPR they came for a game to start with playing 2 up front but after they equalized they slowed everything down, predictably and even John Gregory employed himself as an auxiliary ballboy on the touchline grabbing the ball at every chance and wiping it clean before giving it back. I don’t think it impressed Keane much but no words were exchanged. His menacing glance was enough to tell him to stop being a pratt.
The second half continued much like the first, some decent build up play but the final ball or shot just not good enough and as time ebbed away many thought that a point was all we’d get. I remained convinced however, we were creating so much and QPR were very ropey at the back that it seemed improbable that it could stay 1-1.
Despite Keane having 3 strikers on the bench, he turned to his supersub Leadbitter to get the winner again which he duly obliged. A dubious free-kick was given, in from the right wing, adjacent with the 18 yard line. While I was berating the ref for not playing on as we still had possession the rest of the players bunched in the box for a cross. Except Leadbitter who stood on the edge, unmarked. Edwards fooled everyone and squared it to Leadbitter who met the ball first time and curled a great shot into the bottom corner. It was a fine effort from a moving ball coming across him and was not utterly dissimilar from his goal at Southampton.
Relief all-round and you knew we’d not give away another stupid goal, not this Sunderland side. The rest of time was seen out comfortably and a great moment happened in the last minute of injury time. QPR were launching balls in the mixer and although the defence dealt with most of them comfortably they just headed them straight back to the opposition. The next one that came in Evans, cool as ice, simply deflected the header behind him to the right where he knew Simpson had a bit of room so they could keep possession. It was a moment that summed the back four up in general but Evans in particular who rarely puts a foot wrong and shows the maturity from someone you expect to be 10 years older than him.
Another great 3 points and after another loss for Derby it could all be done and dusted next weekend. It’s a remarkable turnaround from the turn of the year when Sunderland were almost 20 points behind Birmingham and behind teams like Burnley and Colchester. Its great credit to the players and management to get this turnaround and today’s game was a little snapshot of this revival. Playing well at times, the occasional slip up but in the end hard work and playing for the team got them though. Long may it continue.
Man of the match – Jonny Evans
Report by marcopaul