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On This Day (21 Dec 2011): Wes Brown nets late winner as Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland beat QPR!

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‘Twas almost the night before Christmas, and all was well - Martin O’Neill was in charge, and Sunderland grabbed a crucial away win.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

They talk about the ‘new manager bounce’ but in reality, it’s all a bit of luck.

For every Peter Reid, you have a Terry Butcher. For every Malcolm Crosby, you have a Sam Allardyce (eight defeats in his first 11 games – regardless of what he did in the end, there was no bounce).

Turns out a new manager bounce is rather unreliable and entirely unpredictable with regard to what’s to follow.

Sunderland v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Still, when Martin O’Neill arrived at the Stadium of Light, the new manager bounce was alive and well. In his first 13 games we won nine, drew two and lost two – in stark contrast to the two wins, four draws and seven defeats in the 13 games that preceded it.

A last-minute win in his first game against Blackburn Rovers was followed by a narrow defeat at White Hart Lane, and we were in London again a few days later to line up against Neil Warnock’s QPR side – containing the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton, who’d been promoted the season before.

O’Neill made two changes to the side that went down to a second-half Pavlyuchenko goal four days prior – Cattermole and Bendtner (who’d been on the bench in North London after their panel beating sideline became public knowledge) were recalled in place of Colback and Wickham.

Tottenham Hotspur’s English defender Kyl
Bendtner came off the bench against Spurs the Saturday before
Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

Sunderland: Westwood, O’Shea, Brown, Bramble, Bardsley, Larsson, Cattermole, Vaughan, Richardson, Sessegnon, Bendtner. Subs: Carson, Kilgallon, Colback, Elmohamady, Gardner, McClean, Ji.

Sunderland took the lead on 19 minutes through on-loan striker, Bendtner. The self-appointed King of Denmark had already hit the post with a header from Larsson’s free-kick before heading in Richardson’s corner.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

A 1-0 half time lead was soon doubled in the second half, but not before a bit of a scare when a header from Helguson – a player I always thought would end up at Sunderland at some point – was cleared off the line by Titus Bramble.

The Lord’s own combination of Messi and Pele was the man who put us two up, rounding Paddy Kenny after a Gabbidon misjudgment to seemingly secure the three points.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Premier League
2-0!
Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Of course, things are rarely that straightforward, and within the space of four second half minutes we were level – Helguson and then Mackie notching for the Loftus Road side. Helguson pounced on indecision between keeper Westwood and Wes Brown, while Jamie Makie invoked the ‘Law Of Akinbiyi’ by scoring his first goal since January.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Loftus Road
The Spirit of Akinbiyi nets the equaliser
Photo by Rebecca Naden/PA Images via Getty Images

Kenny, a Warnock stalwart, saved from Gardner and Bardsley, and the game looked to be destined for a draw. In the closing seconds of normal time, however, Sunderland grabbed all three points – Brown heading in his first goal for the club after another Richardson corner.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Premier League
Brown grabs the winner
Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

After the game, O’Neill said:

There’s still plenty of work to do and the players accept that. We’re delighted with the win.

We had a great response and at 2-0 we were in a great position but we won the game twice.

It’s pleasing. It hasn’t cured all our woes but we’re delighted.

The took us up to 15th place, and for most of the season under O’Neill we were hovering around ninth or tenth, however, a run of only three wins in the past 16 games of the season saw us fall to 13th on the last day of the season.

And that was as good as it got under O’Neill. Despite spending a fortune on the likes of Fletcher and he-who-shall-not-be-named the following summer. victories were few and far between – seven wins in 30 league games the following season saw O’Neill depart.

Enter stage left: Paolo Di Canio, in the desperate hope for year another ‘new manager bounce’.