Tony Mowbray gets his tactics and squad rotation spot on
While we haven’t got the biggest or most experienced squad in the championship, we’ve got a heap of quality – And tonight it showed. I was a little surprised that we started in the shape we did, deploying Pritchard in centre midfield, but over the 90 minutes in worked wonderfully well, and when Mowbray explained the reasoning behind it post-game it made perfect sense. The subs came on and had the desired impact - Neil, Amad, Ekwah, and Cirkin were all extremely influential in the closing stages, and as a squad, we had more than enough to beat what was a poor QPR team.
I reckon this was Anthony Patterson’s best game in a Sunderland shirt – he was absolutely outstanding. To be fair to him, he had very little to do in terms of saving shots – I think QPR maybe had one on target bar the penalty – but what impressed me was his command of the box. He’s been a little reluctant to leave his line on occasion, but tonight he made great decisions, came out and clattered people and the performance was topped off by his spectacular penalty save, which ultimately changed the course of the game. Credit to him – what a joy it is to see young players getting better week in, week out in front of our eyes.
Gelhardt coming good
Joe Gelhardt’s performance showed signs of things to come, I feel. Yes, he didn’t score – he probably should have done better with his first-half chance, and was unlucky to hit the crossbar in the second 45 – but his all-round play was good, and his off-the-ball work was superb. He closed down, harried and harassed, and showed some nice link-up play with Roberts, Pritchard and Clarke. He’ll come good.
O’Nien stars in midfield
One of the three changes Tony Mowbray made was bringing Luke O’Nien into centre midfield – and what a game he had. He played deep, added some physicality that we’ve probably been lacking in recent weeks, and showed a good range of passing, too. He’s another player who’s improved so much this season, and he poses a goal threat, too – as well as his opener, he had another couple of long-range shots that tested the QPR keeper. He’s created a selection dilemma for Mowbray ahead of Saturday’s game – and that can only be a good thing.
Victory was built on a strong, strong defence
What can you say about Dan Ballard and Danny Batth? Both were absolutely imperious at Loftus Road, ably supported by Trai Hume and Aji Alese. With some stellar defending and some superb tackles, the quartet stemmed QPR’s attack, limiting them to barely any efforts on goal. Together with Anthony Patterson, they created a platform upon which we could get what, in the end was a comprehensive win – and deserve as many plaudits as the attacking players do. We could have won that game by 5 or 6 in the end – but if not for the defensive performance, the game could have been completely different.
The lads stood up to a different type of shithousing – and all credit to them
A couple of weeks ago, we played a strong and very physical Millwall team. On Saturday, we came up against a woefully unambitious and long-ball approach to a game from Reading, and last night we saw a different type of approach from QPR. And we’ve stood up and competed well with them all. On face value, you could be fooled by QPR - they pass the ball around from the back and try to build up play. But their off-the-ball stuff - elbows, fouls, dragging players around - was horrific; almost reminiscent of Wimbledon of the late 80s. The ref let a hell of a lot go - Dozzell had at least three yellow card offences during the game (how he didn’t get a card for his rugby tackle on Roberts is beyond me), Chris Martin dug Patterson in the ribs with an elbow, Sam Field behaved like a dick all game and the number of late tackles in the last 20 minutes bordered on the ridiculous. The ref enabled it by letting too much go early on - but we stood up to it, got on with our own game, and didn’t get dragged down to their level. And that deserves huge amounts of praise.
Clarke shuts up his critics
It may be confined to the microcosm of social media, but Jack Clarke has been in the firing line of some supporters who prefer to be critical rather than supportive. Yes, he can be a frustrating player - Tony Mowbray said so himself after the game – but by their nature, that’s what wingers are. His two goals were well taken – his second killed the game off – and he caused QPR problems all night. He’s bagged two good goals against Premier League opposition as well in the past few months, and already has eight for the season, so let’s get behind Clarke, as well as all of these players. They’re the best bunch we’ve had for more than 20 years in my book. They’ll read what’s on social media and it will affect their confidence; criticism rarely has a positive outcome. Clarke’s still a kid - he’s just turned 22 – and really, he’s in his first full season as a regular starter. He’s got a load of ability and has shown this season he’s a brilliant player to have in the squad. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a strong end to the season for him.