QPR earned a point in Harry Redknapp's first match as manager, a turgid stalemate against uninspired opposition
That was a painful match between two teams low on confidence, ideas and merit. Let us never speak of this again.
GOAL! In the other match, that is. Benteke has put Aston Villa 1-0 up against Reading.
Solid tackle by Kilgallon to dispossess Wright-Phillips as QPR threatened to nick a late winner.
You'll be thrilled to know that there will be at least four more minutes.
Sunderland with the ball in a good position and several men in attack.A shoddy pass by Sessengon forces Bardsley wide, and Bardsley shoddily sends his cross wide. Pap. "I have three whole pounds on a 0-0, suffice to say I'm already plotting my retirement," gushes Gareth Easey.
Terrible, terrible shot by Rose from 25 yards.
QPR counter quickly. Mackie slips the ball into Wright-Philipps, who swivels nicely and open fire from 10 yards. Saved by Mignolet.
A reasonable cross by McClean yields nothing. "Suffering through absolute rubbish MLS matches in the 90's make this one look like a Brazil-Uruguay match," drawls Chuck Scott. "Not only did we have a league filled with absolutely terrible players but the rules were intentionally changed to appeal to American 'desires for action' such as penalty kicks involving the attacking player getting the ball at the half way line and having 10 seconds to have an attempt at goal. There's always a darker side to the moon..." I quite liked that running from the half-way line wheeze.
QPR corner. Cleared at the near post by Cuellar as Nelsen loomed. "Feel for you having to comment on such a boring game, but for those of us playing fantasy football with defenders on either side this tedious timeline is eye candy," enthuses Paul Lynch. But those of you who have QPR and Sunderland defenders in your side are presumably way down in your leagues, right?
Mackie booked for incorrigible clumsiness.
Good, positive run from McClean, followed by a decent cross. Fletcher tries to get it under control but Hill intervenes. The ball breaks to Sessegnon, whose low shot from 20 yards is saved by Green.
Sunderland substitution: Gardner off - and, in fairness, he managed to walk straight to the dugout rather than inadvertently plonk himself on the ground or collide with a water bottle. Saha on.
Is this a sign of things to come from Redknapp? Taraabt off, Wright-Phillips on.
Just 13 minutes to go!
Bonsingwa crosses from the right. Kilgallon hoofs clear. "For me the most boring game ever was between Southampton and West Ham in the mid nineties, despite featuring Le Tissier and Di Canio," recalls Mo Jo. "With them having a rare off-day, the only potential entertainment was Dave Beasant in goal but he unfortunately had a rare on-day.was faultless. Let down on every front."
Mackie shunts Rose over. "For the completely uninterested, disengaged and thus neutral follower, could you kindly indicate which team the players mentioned are affiliated to as I have no clue which side has the one called Park or the one called Gardner?" toots Ian Copestake. Surely you could have guessed that Park is a Ranger? And Gardner is a team-mate of Rose.
Sunderland substitution: Johnson, whose entire performance seemed to say "Mancini was right about me", is taken off. On comes James McClean, whose performance will hopefully say "Trapattoni is wrong about me".
A truly stinking freekick from Gardner, straight into the wall.
That's a wild foul by Hill, compounded by preposterous protestations of innocence! The ref rightly books him and gives Sunderland a freekick at the edge of the area ...
Corner to QPR. You know the rest.
QPR substitution: card-magnet Diakité is replaced by Park Ji-Sung before he can add to his collection.
Chance! And a tremendous save by Green! The first properly-delivered corner of the game was met with a firm header from Fletcher, and Green reacted sharply to block it and gather the rebound. "I once fell asleep in the corporate boxes in the Emirates," reveals Ian McCourt, neglecting to specify how many free drinks he had quaffed beforehand.
Gardner bumps Traoré to the ground, conceding a freekick wide on the right. Granero delivers, Mackie flicks it on ... and Mignolet hacks it clear.
Colback clatters into Granero to curtail an incipient QPR break.The referee's whistle wakes up several members of the crowd.
Mbia collects the ball about 30 yards out and, in the spirit of Cissé, decides to shoot. It's a reasonable effort in fairness, and whizzes just wide.
Lovely curling cross from the left by Gardner. Green hurls himself at it and courageously punches it away as Fletcher prepared to tap into the net.
Diakité booked for shunting Johnson to the ground. There;s only one thing more predictable than that, and that is that the ensuing freekick will be shanked wide or into the wall. And lo, it comes to pass.
That is sheer dross from Sunderland. Their passing is hopeless. QPR have been bad, yet comfortably the better team. They are unlikely to get an easier chance to win a match all season.
Yellow card for Cuellar, whose crunching tackle on Traoré might have been punished with a red if the ref had managed to keep both eyes open.
Sessegnon attempts to wriggle his way into the box. He succeeds, but once there he loses the ball.
"Could you start lying to us?" pleads Crohan O'Kennedy. "Just make it all up, tell us that QPR are wonderful to watch and that our centre forwards look dangerous." Actually, you are being lied to, insofar as this is no longer me: sensing how this match was going to pan out, I simply input some formulaic lines into the computer and they will be churned out at two-minute intervals until the 90-minute mark. You know, things like "sloppy pass by Johnson" ... "foul by Diakité" ... and "Cissé sends an ambitious shot wide from 56 yards".
Harry has been forced into the first change of his QPR reign: Julio Cesar is injured and that means a return to the fore for Rob Green. Perhaps things are about to liven up?
The only one I have ever fallen asleep at was a Millwall-Wrexham travesty about 20 years ago (no, I wasn't supposed to be working at it). And that was despite the noisy "exuberance" of many of the fans around me.
"I was interested in the 'Lord Ferg to buy Taraabt' stories doing the rounds," pipes up Matt Dony. "A few years back when Sunderland were setting all kinds of records in being rubbish, Fergie immediately bought their striker. Now, Taraabt is clearly better than Bellion (I'd guess half the readers here are better than Bellion), but he's still barely standing out in the worst team in The Greatest League Ever. Will be ever truly be the player he threatens to be?" I think that's slightly harsh: he's doing more than barely standing out, he has been genuinely good this season. Not world-class but certainly good enough to warrant staying in the Premier League if QPR go down. That's assuming Redknapp manages to get the best out of him, which he failed to do previously.
"You might think it's rubbish, but compared to Rangers' performance against Southampton that was like watching Milan against Barcelona in the 94 European Cup," bawls Michael Hann. "Admittedly, I did doze off for the last five minutes of the half." I don't deny QPR have been better than against Southampton, partly because they have at least showed endeavour and partially because Sunderland are godawful. It still 20,000 leagues under what I consider acceptable.
I'm going to the toilet. To flush my head in preparation for another 45 minutes of this gruel.
Well, that was a great advertisement for advertisements.
Mackie hoiks in a cross from the right. Bardsley puts it behind for a corner, pleased to have had something to do. Taarabt, who has again been QPR's best player, sends the ball to the back post, where Hill meets it with a reasonable header. Comfortable save by Mignolet. "I am also watching Aston Villa-Reading right now," confesses J.R. "It looks a lot like this game only Villa are wearing claret and blue, not red and white stripes."
It's raining, it's pouring but that sudden burst of incident means fans are not quite snoring. Any more.
Fine save by Cesar! Sunderland broke down the left and Johnson slipped the ball through to Fletcher, whose eight-yard shot is deflected behind by the keeper.
After good work by Taarabt, Mackie finds himself one-on-one with Mignolet, who blocks his shot. It breaks to Taraabt, whose effort from 12 yards doesn't find a way through the three recovering defenders and Sunderland eventually scramble the ball away.
Rose, perhaps Sunderland's best performer, runs past Bosingwa ... and out of play.
Bardsley with a pointless shot from 25 yards.
Four consecutive completed passes! Nearly. "They just showed the possession stats as 50-50," observes Hubert O'Hearn. "I say 15-15 at best."
Sessegnon scuttles into the box and gets a sight of goal ... but then hesitates and when he eventually gets off his shot it doesn't even travel one yard before it's blocked. Still, at this rate that could make the highlights reel. "I wonder how Ukraine are feeling about missing out on Arry's services as they watch this," parps Robin Hazlehurst. I wonder if 'Arry isn't thinking he should have gone to Ukraine.
Nope, still nothing worth reporting. "As Newcastle have showed, relegation can be good for you. It's like detox: supporters find their love tested, and then repaid with the joys of a promotion season," reckons Harry Tuttle. "Players who have never really seen the club as anything besides a day job leave; the ones that stay become heroes and the spaces in the team allow younger prospects to develop. Compared to another season of lower mid-table toil, there really are worse futures for Sunderland supporters to compensate. On the other hand, teams like Wigan, Reading and QPR are, arguably, too small to guarantee the effectiveness of the relegation treatment. By this logic, I make Villa and Sunderland favourites for relegation - it's like they know, deep down, that it will be good for them. Existentially, they have nowhere else to go."
The groundsman has done a great job with the lines around the pitch. They're perfectly straight. That's about it for positives from this game so far.
Freekick to Sunderland at the edge of the box after Rose falls over. It's near the left-hand corner of the area. Gardner curls it around the wall but into a second cluster of players who had gathered in front of the goal. QPR welly it away.
QPR exert a haphazard sort of pressure before their "move" fizzles out. "I wish everyone who described Chelsea v City as dull was forced to watch this, with eyes propped open like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange," drones Hubert O'Hearn. "This is the ne plus ultra of dulldom."
This is more scrappy than Scooby Doo's annoying cousin. After a scruffy bout of play Sessesgnon tries to send a 25-yard volley into the net but instead finds advertising hoarding.
Cissé bangs one way wide from 25 yards. "Opposing teams must work really hard on their set-piece defending before games against Rangers, because I don't think I've seen a QPR corner beat the first man in 18 months. Really." The good news for QPR fans is that Sunderland's corners have been just as bad this season, despite the fact that Larsson used to be a very effective set-piece supplies. Already tonight he's wasted a couple of corners.
Sessegnon tries to burst past Diakité and is clumped to the ground. Freekick to Sunderland from the right. Johnson delivers an in-swinger and Cuellar helps it on with a back-header, forcing Cesar to turn it over the bar.
So far, so that's why these sides are in trouble. This is low quality stuff.
Decent interplay between Granero and Taraabt before the Spaniard plays it to Cissé, who, naturally, has a pop from 20 yards. It's headed wide but Mignolet doesn't know that so dives to tip it behind. The corner comes to nothing.
Diakité gives the ball away in midfield and Rose romps forward before slipping it wide to Johnson, who aims a low cross into the six-yard box, where there is precisely no one trying to get on the end of it.
Larsson curls in a corner ... straight to Cesar.
QPR have started the better here, showing plenty of urgency while still passing patiently. Mind you, they often began like that under Mark Hughes before conceding - and, to the former manager's dismay, once they fell behind they tended to disintegrate.
Not only is there no Joey Barton, but now the Mackem version has to depart: Lee Cattermole has picked up an injury early doors and limps off to be replaced by Colback.
Gardner, who, I submit, is one of the best strikers of the ball in the Premier League, believes that fact by blemming a wonky freekick wide from 25-yards.
A good early chance for Cissé, who manages to make it not look like a chance. Some steady QPR passing down the right led to Mackie (I think) clipping it towards the back post, where Cissé arrived to nod it politely back to the keeper. Still, let's concentrate on the positives: it was on target and Cissé even managed to stay onside. That's progress. Oh Harry, is there nothing you can't do?!
Mackie shows he's primed for battle by booting Rose in the leg while challenging for the ball. Freekick to Sunderland, who take it short and begin ponderously donking it about at the back.
QPR kick off, suggesting they won the toss. Redknapp's magic touch is working already!
"The short answer to Ryan Dunne's question is: no," responds Michael Hann. "Barton's aggression last season tended to manifest itself in attempted headbutts and off-the-ball kicks rather than in ball-winning tackles, which were few and far between. As was anything of much use from him." Are you sure you're not just being a member of the silly English media? Why are you neglecting his accurate pass or that hard shot of his that went wide a few months back? Let's not be selective here.
"Doyler, how many Redknapp phrases do you reckon you can embed in your MBM throughout the match?" wonders Peter Corway, hurling a gauntlet to the ground with reckless abandon. That's a tough one, Peter, I tend to leave all that sort of stuff to the chairman but I'll give it a right good go and although I'm not saying that I'm a top, top MBMer and will definitely get to 10 phrases, I'll certainly be bang around there.
"If an in-your-face aggressive midfield partner is the key to unlocking Granero's silky playmaker skills, then is it not rather a shame that QPR got rid of Philosophy's Joey Barton?" blahs Ryan Dunne. That's Joseph Barton to you, Dunne. Or, as they (or least he) might put it in French: "that's Joseph Barton to you, Dunne."
"I'm interested to see how the Mbia-Granero-Diakite midfield will work," declares long-standing QPR sufferer Michael Hann. "I've been thinking for a while that Granero needs a great brute alongside him to succeed when he hasn't got the best in the world alongside him, as he did at Real. Mbia might well be the great brute in question. We shall see."
Here begins Operation Redknapp, in which our protagonist cannot lose. QPR go down and it's not Harry's fault, him having inherited an impossible situation that only a true humanitarian would have voluntarily walked into in the first place. QPR stay up and it's a miracle, another magical act of escapology by <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2006/apr/20/sport.comment1">good ol' Harry Houdin</a>i! Let's see what bare bones he has to work with tonight:
Sunderland: Mignolet, Bardsley, Kilgallon, Cuellar, Rose, Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, Johnson, Sessegnon, Fletcher.
Subs: Westwood, Campbell, Colback, Vaughan, Bramble, McClean,
QPR: Julio Cesar, Bosingwa, Hill, Nelsen, Traore, Granero,
Mbia, Diakite, Taarabt, Mackie, Cisse.
Subs: Green, Derry, Ferdinand, Park, Wright-Phillips, Da Silva, Hoilett.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)
A question: If QPR win, should the start of Redknapp's reign coincide with the end of O'Neill's?
Paul will be here shortly. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from Dominic Fifield's scene-setter:
Harry Redknapp was late in to training at Harlington on Monday morning, his trek from the south coast reduced to a crawl in the gloom of the M25. The gridlock offered time for contemplation to the swish of the windscreen wipers as the rain pattered down, though, for once, it might have been wiser to forget. Queens Park Rangers prop up the Premier League, their points tally a miserable four with over a third of the season spent. "Embarrassing," said the manager once the traffic had cleared. "This is going to be hard. A real challenge."
And yet it is one he has accepted with typical relish. It is a little over five months since Redknapp was summoned by the Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, and his employment terminated, a fourth-place finish having failed to yield the desired return to the Champions League. The months since had been spent on the golf course, flirting with football in an advisory role at AFC Bournemouth or in punditry, before a two-way struggle for his services flared last week. Ukraine wanted him to revive a faltering World Cup qualification campaign, potentially at England's expense. QPR's owners sacked Mark Hughes and, sensing they might lose their saviour apparent, swiftly offered up a return to the top flight. Redknapp watched his new charges muster rare resistance at Old Trafford on Saturday before they eventually succumbed to familiar failings.
Theirs is a desperate situation. A squad flung together over three splurges in as many transfer windows by two different managers feels imbalanced, blunted by the loss of a pair of former England strikers to long-term injury and undermined by a porous defence. Rangers have not won away from home in the league for more than a year, their overall record one of weak underachievement damning an experienced squad struggling to accept life in a relegation battle. Derby accumulated only 11 points in 2007-08 but even they had more, six, at this stage of the campaign.