Wednesday, November 28, 2012
QPR weather the storm
Kristan Heneage, Stadium of Light
Pathetic fallacy is a literary term for when the weather in a scene or paragraph reflects the mood. It's also a condensed way of describing Harry Redknapp's first match as QPR manager.
On what was a wet evening on Wearside, torrential downpour in the region had left some questioning if the game would even go ahead - memories of Reading earlier in the season the evidence cited. Fears were averted however, and a drab affair ensued, which should come as little surprise to those who know Redknapp's management history. Impressive debuts are not really something he's associated with.
Turnarounds of considerable proportion, however, are - and that is what's required for a QPR side that is still to enjoy the exuberance of a victory this season. With all eyes firmly entrenched on the former Tottenham boss, he preferred the comfort of his dugout for the opening quarter of the game, occasionally sending Joe Jordan out to usher instructions.
When he did venture out into the technical area, it was with the confident demeanour of a man who is aware of the task at hand and with faith in his own ability, something the stats would concur with - Redknapp having only suffered one defeat against Martin O'Neill in eighteen meetings prior to Tuesday evening's game.
And if Redknapp, a man tagged with the ability to get the best out of those he commands, can build the side around the impressive Esteban Granero, then you sense QPR could avoid the financially crippling fate of relegation. A player steeped in composure, Granero was the metronome for his side during their brighter periods, flanked by more physical team-mates Samba Diakite and Stephane Mbia, something Redknapp consciously chose to do, revealing he wanted more power in midfield.
However in the 20th minute, a stark reminder came as to his biggest problem. A small lovers' tiff between Granero and the always interesting Adel Taarabt gave credence to the kind of narcissism that it's claimed could cull their chances of survival. Much was made of Redknapp's decision to sell the Moroccan while at Tottenham, something he said after the game he didn't really want to do, his chairman making the decision that a potentially high sell-on fee held more benefit than an inconsistent impact substitute.
After the game, he credited his side's effort, and spoke of how impressed he was with goalkeeper Julio Cesar 'as a pro and as a boy'. The Redknapp of old was in full effect.
For Sunderland fans, there was an anniversary nearing - almost a year to the day that Steve Bruce was asked to clean out his desk. Martin O'Neill's record of two wins in twenty one is not the kind of form many had anticipated when he was given the job the majority of Sunderland fans had nominated him for.
While statistics can be used to paint many a different picture, the last one is clearly starting to concern those home fans - 36,000 of whom deemed the visit of QPR the best entertainment the city had to offer on a Tuesday evening.
Given how often football fans are described as fickle, it was difficult not to sympathise with the home fans at times, the 52nd minute being a prime example. As QPR stroked the ball around fairly comfortably, their opposition stood in a docile manner and watched, much to the disgust of fans who were growing increasingly impatient.
The lack of victories is also beginning to affect the man at the top of the chain, with his side's two clear chances a frugal showing for an attack that cost nearly £30 million to assemble.
Reports on Saturday evening he had resigned, while quickly proven to be false, did little to strengthen the position of a man who cut a disconsolate and at times desperate figure on the sidelines. Every half chance met with a jump of hope.
The loss of Lee Cattermole after five minutes to a fresh knee injury is indicative of the kind of fortune currently haunting the Black Cats.
O'Neill spoke of his frustration after the game, having expected the usual bounce that teams tend to enjoy when a new man is installed. He chose to prescribe playing with confidence as the obvious if not vital antidote to his side's cumbersome and frustrating showings of late.
Amongst the laptops and televisions of the Sunderland press room are a number of quotes from former homes. It is one in particular from 1973 FA Cup winning manager Bob Stokoe that seems particular poignant: "I didn't bring the magic. It's always been here...I just came back to find it."
A lot may have changed in football since Stokoe uttered those words, but O'Neill is now charged with the same task nearly forty years on - a difficult task if the showing against QPR is anything to go by.