It’s three weeks since Sunderland last played at home and whilst the break has afforded us a chance to regroup, the dismal Stadium of Light run without a win has now extended to 301 days.
But surely the odds decree that today is the day, and to cap it with a first clean sheet in 14 games would be the way to do it - imagine the scenes. Sunderland haven’t lost in the second-tier to QPR since May 1973 - days after winning the FA Cup.
Over 43,000 were inside Roker Park on that Wednesday night to witness a variety of Cup presentations before Rangers spoiled the occasion in a fiery affair.
Terry Venables, Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles took to the field for QPR in a game halted by various unsavoury incidents before Bob Stokoe ordered his players off the field, swiftly followed by the visitors.
After a senior police official took to the microphone in an appeal for calm which had little effect, it took the Cup winning manager a walk to the centre circle to utter these choice words that enabled the game to restart:
Let’s not spoil one of the best seasons the club has had for many years. We have had a good run and we learned to win. Let us learn to lose. If we have to lose let us do it in the football tradition. Let us get this game finished and come back next season and start again.
Fast forward four decades and in front of a crowd expected to be half that who thronged to football on Wearside in 1973 - and even the number who turned up last season - Black Cats boss Simon Grayson is a man in desperate need of a win to ease the growing doubts about his tenure. One win in eleven has Sunderland in familiar crisis mode but something will have to give if results don’t improve.
Ian Holloway brings his Queens Park Rangers to town with his side in a run of poor form to almost match that of today’s hosts. Not since September 9th have the Hoops won a game and QPR are victory-less in their last five.
Not wishing to tempt fate, but ever the genial host to hand their opponents a break, Sunderland face a team who haven’t won on the road this season, with only Birmingham City picking up less points than QPR on their travels so far in the Championship.
This afternoon’s trip is the Londoner’s longest of the season but Rangers arrive with four first team defenders ruled out. Former Sunderland loanee Nedum Onuoha is one of them, sidelined with a hamstring injury, joining Steven Caulker, Grant Hall and James Perch in the treatment room.
Duncan Watmore is expected to play some part for Sunderland in his first Stadium of Light outing in the league since December 2016 but his fellow long-term absentee, Paddy McNair, is still a few weeks away from Championship football and will turn out for the Under-23s again on Monday.
QPR’s one to watch this afternoon may be winger Luke Freeman. A January signing from Bristol City for £300,000, the 25-year-old has a couple of goals and four assists to his name so far this season.
Holloway has hinted he will tweak his side from the one which lost at home to Fulham last time out, having tried various systems in recent games. The R’s have been inconsistent this season and it’s impossible to know which version will turn out this afternoon.
It seems probable that Lamine Kone will remain on the home bench after the reintroduction of John O’Shea gave the Sunderland defence a more assured look a fortnight ago at Preston.
As for the rest of the Black Cats line-up, it’s entirely possible that Grayson will rotate his goalkeepers again and shuffle his full-backs around with Billy Jones, Adam Matthews and Bryan Oviedo the trio to fit into the two berths.
Up front, Sunderland remain limited in options, meaning James Vaughan will be looking to add to his one goal in fourteen league and cup appearances. Watmore is likely to start on the bench which will hand the star man of the season so far, Aiden McGeady, the job of unlocking the QPR defence from the start.
Sunderland likely XI: Steele; Jones; Browning; O’Shea; Matthews; Cattermole; Ndong; McMananaman; Honeyman; McGeady; Vaughan.
Predicted score: 1-0 Sunderland. It has to be.