Spoils shared in the North East
RANGERS racked up a point on their travels, drawing 1-1 at Sunderland in the Sky Bet Championship.
However, in truth, Ian Holloway’s men could – and probably should – have come away from the Stadium of Light with all three to show for their efforts.
Idrissa Sylla’s 37th-minute goal gave QPR the lead – the Guinean international heading home Luke Freeman’s corner, as the latter kept up his fine assist record this term.
But the Hoops then spurned a host of further chances thereafter and, despite a dominant start to the second half, Sunderland levelled matters just past the hour mark.
Aiden McGeady’s low 20-yard effort saw the hosts strike against the run of play - and take a share the spoils.
Holloway made just one change to his Rangers side for the trip to the North East, following our narrow west London derby defeat to Fulham before the international break.
A hand injury sustained in training ruled Jack Robinson out. So Ryan Manning deputised.
Meanwhile, in Nedum Onuoha’s absence, Massimo Luongo continued to act as stand-in skipper.
QPR – in a 3-5-2 formation – lined up as: Alex Smithies; Alex Baptiste, Joel Lynch, Jake Bidwell; Pawel Wszolek, Josh Scowen, Luongo, Freeman, Manning; Jamie Mackie, Sylla.
There was little in the game early on, even though Sunderland probably shaded the possession count.
The home side’s first opportunity arrived following a right-flank McGeady corner in the second minute. But Lee Cattermole’s close-range header forced a comfortable save from Smithies.
In the opening exchanges, the visitors looked to break out whenever the opportunity arose.
Rangers’ maiden attempt duly came in the fourth minute. Luongo, Manning and Mackie all combined, before the latter’s shot was deflected over.
At the other end, Smithies produced a fantastic save in the ninth minute.
A Sunderland free-kick from the left fell for George Honeyman in the box, whose subsequent blast saw QPR’s number one fashion a flying one-handed stop.
Rangers themselves almost took the lead in the 14th minute – Sylla’s turn and snap-shot from 20 yards tipped around the post by Mackems custodian Jason Steele.
Four minutes later, the hosts also threatened with an attempt that eventually crept just past the target – Bryan Oviedo’s 30-yard daisy-cutter shooting inches wide.
At the midway stage of the first half, there was still little to separate the teams.
If anything, it was the home fans who had started to grow restless, following what a had been a slightly-nervy opening from their team.
However, that being said, Sunderland should have led come the 30th minute.
On his return from a long-term injury, Duncan Watmore showed fantastic vision to put McGeady in the clear – who could only slide an effort past the post from 12 yards, as Smithies rushed out of his goal.
A let-off for the R’s – and they duly took advantage of that by edging in front eight minutes from half-time.
Freeman’s right-wing corner was to a tee for Sylla, who rose to power home a header from all of three yards.
Lift-off in the North East and, though this had been a fairly-even encounter up to half-time, Rangers also should have gone in 2-0 up at the interval.
Manning’s cross-shot from the left-hand side of the box fell kindly for Sylla on six yards, but his shot was agonisingly deflected over.
A goal to the good, Hoops boss Holloway unsurprisingly kept things as they were going into the second period.
And Rangers began the closing period brightly.
At the start of the second half, Mackie swiped at a good chance on 10 yards following Wszolek’s low ball from the right, before the latter’s 20-yard effort was collected by Steele.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, with Smithies pulling off a smart save from substitute Lewis Grabban on 51 minutes, following a Watmore assist.
But Rangers were back on the attack come the 54th minute.
A nice exchange of passes saw Mackie, Sylla and Freeman combine, with the latter’s shot on his weaker right foot doing little to trouble Steele.
The home faithful grew increasingly frustrated and, on the hour, goalkeeper Steele was called into action twice more – saving from both Luongo and Mackie.
But you felt that QPR needed a second goal to go with their pressure.
And so it proved when the hosts pulled themselves level against the run of play in the 61st minute.
McGeady’s low 20-yard effort did the damage, flying past Smithies and into the bottom left-hand corner.
That goal lifted the noise inside the Stadium of Light, though Rangers responded by twice going close again in the 65th minute.
Mackie and Freeman both threatened in a goalmouth scramble – but Sunderland just about managed to survive.
Holloway opted for a first R’s change two minutes later. Conor Washington replaced Mackie.
Things calmed down a little after that, although Rangers still looked dangerous on the counter attack.
Hoops ‘keeper Smithies was forced into a smart catch in the 75th minute, following McGeady’s low thunderbolt.
A second QPR substitution arrived a minute later, as Bright Osayi-Samuel came on in place of Wszolek.
This game was now finely poised, and Rangers’ Baptiste produced an important block to keep Cattermole out 12 minutes from time. The combative midfielder looked certain to score from six yards.
And at the other end, the Hoops also looked to net, again, with Luongo’s thumping strike – that was beaten away by Steele in the Sunderland goal – a notable visiting effort in three minutes of stoppage time at the end.
But there was to be no further drama at the death, as Rangers were forced to settle for a point.