Neil Warnock's Christmas cup will not be filled with festive cheer after Wes Brown grabbed a late, late winner for Sunderland after a second-half rally from Queens Park Rangers that had appeared to salvage a point and erase their earlier slipshod performance.

"I thought Christmas was on Sunday," the QPR manager said. "I didn't think it started tonight. I just cannot believe how we've lost that game, we've had so many knives in the heart: every goal was really disappointing. To come back like we did – I think they showed some right guts and determination, and we've got to look forward now.

"I will be looking to improve the squad in January. I know what I need and I'm going to get them now. The fans know, they trust me, and it won't take a lot of sorting – we've got a decent side."

Alejandro Faurlín and Heidar Helguson had linked for QPR's 67th-minute leveller by Jamie Mackie, whose header for an inaugural Premier League strike allowed Kieren Westwood no chance. This followed Helguson's bundled-in finish moments before, but as Warnock contemplated a kinder review of the maladies that had allowed the visitors to cruise into the lead, Brown finished from a Kieran Richardson corner despite Faurlín's attempt to clear from the line.

The pre-match news was that Anton Ferdinand had not recovered from a hamstring injury to be able to feature in the matchday squad, though he was spied in relaxed mode chatting with some of the Sunderland players.

The former Black Cats defender watched on from the stands as each side attempted to move their projects forward after defeats in previous outings.

Sunderland had gone down 1-0 at Tottenham Hotspur, Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at Manchester United. In the search for a first league win in six, Warnock was able to select Paddy Kenny for the first time for over a month following his side strain, so Radek Cerny was dropped to the bench, where he was joined by Jay Bothroyd, whose place was taken by Shaun Derry in QPR's 4-3-3 formation.

Martin O'Neill, hoping to improve on a start to his Sunderland career that read W1 L1, made two changes, Lee Cattermole and Nicklas Bendtner coming in for Connor Wickham and Jack Colback.

After 19 minutes, Richardson and Bendtner combined for the opener. From the right quadrant the winger dipped in a delivery and the 23-year-old rocketed in a header from close range.

This was league goal number 29 conceded by Warnock's men and he will have turned his hairdryer to turbo at half-time when exploring precisely why his defence had got nowhere near Bendtner.

The other problem for the R's was a composure deficit in midfield, where Barton's aimless passing and inability to govern this crucial area was evident throughout a first half he will be hoping to forget.

After the break, Warnock removed the anonymous Shaun Wright-Phillips for Adel Taarabt, as last season's Championship player of the year was offered a latest chance to turn a big-time league game, and show Warnock he should be restored to his first-choice XI.

He did not disappoint in a cameo that was filled with pace and intent and which suggested the Moroccan might receive the nod next time out, at Swansea City next Tuesday.

After Taarabt was involved in QPR's best move of the contest so far, in which Armand Traoré raced down the left and delivered into the area, disaster struck. Danny Gabbidon misjudged a header near halfway and Stéphane Sessègnon raced clear of a dozing defence before rounding Kenny and blazing home.

At this point Andre Marriner, the referee, was replaced by Stuart Atwell due to a leg injury, and he officiated the frantic finish regarding which O'Neill said: "It had crossed my mind that we might throw it away at 2-2. But it is delightful for us: the points are of paramount importance."