Chris Young’s big-match verdict: Caught short in all aspects

DEJECTED ... Sunderland players as they slip to a 3-1 defeat at QPR.
DEJECTED ... Sunderland players as they slip to a 3-1 defeat at QPR.
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ELLIS SHORT sat and fumed in the rickety Loftus Road stands as Sunderland succumbed to a fourth defeat in six on Saturday.

To immediately halt the conspiracy theorists, that does not correlate to heightened scrutiny on Martin O’Neill’s position, despite the inevitable fury among Sunderland supporters over the weekend.

But after pumping more than £100million into the club, Short was entitled to wonder what the latest foray into his bank balance had garnered for the Black Cats, particularly compared to the headline acts of QPR’s January recruitment drive.

QPR’s near-obscene gamble on Christopher Samba and Loic Remy to retain top-flight football should not be a model for any sensible or prudent club.

Yes, back-to-back victories have given Harry Redknapp’s side more than a fighting chance of avoiding the drop, but they will still need a probable 15-point return over the final nine games to complete the most remarkable of escapes.

For a side who have won just four Premier League outings all season, that is still a big ask.

Should QPR indeed suffer relegation, then the subsequent financial oblivion will mirror Redknapp’s former employers Portsmouth, unless backer Tony Fernandes has £100million or so lying around.

But Samba and Remy have made an instant impact at QPR.

The same cannot be said of Sunderland’s two principle signings, Alfred N’Diaye and Danny Graham, who are proving to be slow burners.

The duo don’t deserve to be singled out for Saturday’s defeat.

It was a collectively inept display that led supporters, who had shelled out an extortionate £45, to give short shrift to the shamed applause of the Sunderland players at the final whistle.

And the task of alleviating this increasingly panicked situation should not fall to players who have been at the Stadium of Light for a matter of weeks.

N’Diaye is a long-term investment, rather than a short-term fix, while Graham desperately requires the confidence boost of a goal to remove the burden of a £5m price tag.

But neither have immediate boosted Sunderland’s offensive threat or defensive resolve in the manner of Samba or Remy.

Samba is not quite the all-conquering figure he was at Blackburn, yet the former Anzhi centre-half is still a behemoth, who inevitably creates confidence among his fellow defenders by his sheer physical presence.

That power was evident after Sunderland took the lead, when N’Diaye attempted to burst beyond Samba down the left-hand channel.

Samba nonchalantly shrugged N’Diaye off, held him at arm’s length and then managed to bustle the ball into touch.

Despite the Congalese international’s arrival, QPR’s defending was not especially foolproof, yet the only occasion on which keeper Rob Green was seriously called into action was when he picked the ball out of his own net.

Sunderland’s inability to muster a response, or draw a save out of Green after falling behind midway through the second half, was testament to the impact Samba has made on Redknapp’s defence.

Similarly, Remy made his presence felt in the only statistic that matters – goals.

The Frenchman, who had been a target for Sunderland before it became obvious that Marseille would receive a hefty transfer fee for the 26-year-old’s services, could have added to his tally after spurning a couple of chances following his leveller.

But the pace of Remy, Junior Hoilett and Andros Townsend stretched Sunderland’s back-line throughout that first half – other than the 10 minutes after Steven Fletcher’s goal – and when the golden opportunity came, the £8m man finished clinically beyond Simon Mignolet.

Remy certainly benefited from more service than Graham.

Other than a Seb Larsson cross when Samba slipped and took the former Middlesbrough man unawares, the Sunderland striker never had a sniff.

And while chances were hard to come by, so were any opportunities to influence the play.

Time and again during that backs-to-the-wall opening 20 minutes, Sunderland humped the ball forward via hit and hope, rather than giving Graham or Fletcher a chance by getting the ball into their feet.

The 4-4-2 needed to incorporate Graham into the starting line-up left Sunderland frighteningly open in that first 45 minutes too.

With neither Adam Johnson or Stephane Sessegnon natural back-trackers, Jack Colback and Craig Gardner were left one-on-one against QPR’s wingers and the latter, in particular, struggled as he stood off Hoilett and allowed him the chance to build up a head of steam.

O’Neill was forced to switch Graham to the right and move Sessegnon into the hole as the half drew to a close, simply to give Sunderland a hope of linking the midfield and front-line.

The removal of Graham 12 minutes into the second half was a necessary one and Sunderland looked a far more solid unit with a 4-4-1-1 before conceding a goal just as QPR were beginning to labour.

The extra body in that midfield area – albeit it was merely through Sessegnon dropping deeper than either Fletcher or Graham naturally would – gave a helping hand to N’Diaye.

Although the France Under-21 international clearly has potential and makes the positive runs forward that no other midfielder at the club can manage, his execution remains inconsistent, while, on Saturday, he too often either drifted off his man or was caught the wrong side.

The problem with just two principle January signings is that O’Neill can do little to tinker with the team for what is an enormous encounter against Norwich City.

Yes, the third January arrival, Kader Mangane, could be included, as could Phil Bardsley, David Vaughan, James McClean and even Connor Wickham, presuming he returns from a loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday.

But for O’Neill, who had been keen to secure more recruits in the window, there is no opportunity for wholesale changes.

What Short will have learned, though, is that Saturday was further proof of Sunderland’s need to make significant reinforcements during the summer.

Defeat at Loftus Road did nothing to alleviate concerns that Sunderland will still be in the Premier League by then though.

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