Chris Young’s match report: Last-day quality arrivals needed, but Sunderland still bearing bruises from old problems

Queens Park Rangers' Leroy Fer and Sunderland's John O'Shea battle for the ball.
Queens Park Rangers' Leroy Fer and Sunderland's John O'Shea battle for the ball.
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THERE IS a dream scenario for the final few hours of a transfer window which has lived up to the billing of being utterly manic.

Sunderland’s accountant discovers a £14million surplus on the balance sheet and a permanent bid is put back on the table for Fabio Borini, who suddenly experiences a longing for cheesy chips.

Borini trots onto the training field at the Academy of Light with Ricky Alvarez, and while they’re tying their boot laces, a new central midfielder joins them for a kick-about.

They are then followed by centre-halves Toby Alderweireld and Virgil van Dijk, before Jim White even has a chance to a sport a gaudy tie in the late-night hysteria on Sky Sports News.

Now, there need to be at least two, probably three and maybe four – if Valentin Roberge departs – signings made within the last hours of this window.

Anything less and Sunderland could be facing a bleak Autumn, both through a lack of depth and a lack of additional quality.

However, had Sunderland signed 20 players this summer, there would still be the odd fella moaning that they needed another centre-half. It’s the same at any club.

There’s a greed for transfers these days and it’s reached a point where the thirst for incomings can outshine the games during August.

But this was never going to be a “perfect” window for Sunderland.

Yes, Sunderland had to grasp the opportunity which stemmed from their relegation reprieve and bring in some much-needed quality, along with quantity.

If the final holes in the squad are not plugged appropriately today, then there will rightly be plenty of finger-pointing at Gus Poyet being left short.

But the shopping spree from last summer was so bad – just three of the 14 recruits from 12 months ago were in the matchday squad on Saturday – that it was impossible to suddenly wave a magic wand and transform Sunderland into top-six contenders.

It will take a couple more windows before all the obvious deficiencies are addressed.

Some long-term planning is needed after too many sticky-back plaster solutions.

Sunderland face a period of gradual progression, where there will still be irritating games like QPR, rather than Poyet working more miracles.

That said, the capture of Alvarez and potentially still Borini, is clearly of paramount importance. Sunderland need that natural balance restoring on the left-hand side of their forward line.

Neither Steven Fletcher nor Connor Wickham were dreadful at QPR, even if it’s an obvious area to blame for Sunderland suffering their first defeat of the campaign.

Fletcher looked sharp in Sunderland’s purple patch during the opening 25 minutes and was only denied a first goal of the campaign by an excellent stop from Rob Green.

Likewise, Wickham overpowered Mauricio Isla early on and set up a chance for the impressive Patrick van Aanholt just 30 seconds into the encounter.

But there were two problems.

First, Fletcher struggled to hold the ball up and relieve the pressure when Sunderland were under the cosh for the final 20 minutes of the first half, before they eventually conceded.

And more importantly, there isn’t the slickness or fluidity around Sunderland’s attack when Wickham is out on the left. The 21-year-old needs to be used centrally. Poyet knows it and so do supporters.

That wasn’t just down to Fletcher or Wickham. Too many times, particularly in the second half, Sunderland over-complicated in or around the QPR penalty area and the hosts comfortably kept their defensive shape.

However, a more natural balance to the front three would surely help in that regard.

If Sunderland had been slicker and more ruthless in the penalty area on Saturday, they would have remained unbeaten going into the international break.

Adam Johnson was very much in the mood early on, as he drifted inside off the right flank, with QPR’s back four and midfield unsure over who was picking up the winger.

On the opposite flank, van Aanholt was similarly a threat.

The Dutch international had licence to burst forward and get the other side of Wickham, with QPR winger Matty Phillips offering little help to a right-back in Isla, who remains a rookie by Premier League standards.

All that promise came to nought though.

And by the half-hour mark, even the potential for a goal had ebbed away.

The gradual disappearance of Lee Cattermole’s composure was one factor in that turnaround, particularly after the Teessider was booked for a cynical – if soft – pull-back in his running battle with ex-Sunderland target Jordon Mutch.

When Cattermole knows he is on a disciplinary tight-rope, and an opposition crowd sense he is at risk of a second booking, the much-needed bite he adds to Sunderland’s midfield invariably fades.

But, in general, Sunderland became sloppier in their ball retention after that promising opening. On a couple of occasions, they were needlessly caught dallying in possession.

It gave QPR a route back into the game and after their hugely impressive summer signing Leroy Fer smashed a snorting long-ranger against the underside of the crossbar, Harry Redknapp’s side piled on the pressure.

Poyet’s side needed to accept the hosts were in the ascendancy and see the game through to half-time at 0-0.

Their failure to do just that with suitable game management cost them.

After Charlie Austin escaped from Wes Brown to smash the ball into the roof of the net, QPR had the platform to sit deep and defend their advantage.

They did it well and Sunderland were forced to feed off scraps.

Other than a couple of relatively routine saves from Green to deny Santiago Vergini at the start of the second half and Emanuele Giaccherini at the end, there was plenty of huff and puff from Sunderland, yet precious little end result.

Should that prompt blind panic that Sunderland are heading into the international break without a league win to their name and have failed to beat one of the Premier League’s new boys?

Not really. The margins between the bottom 13 sides in the top flight will be so thin this season that everyone is going to beat each other.

All Sunderland can do is strive to be as consistent as possible and build on the signs of encouragement which have been apparent in the campaign’s opening skirmishes.

An extra splash of quality today will of course help in that regard.

But it will take time for both Poyet and Lee Congerton to root out every problem cast by their predecessors.

QPR: Green, Isla, Caulker, Ferdinand, Hill, Barton, Fer (Taarabt 90), Mutch, Hoilett (Traore 83), Phillips, Austin (Zamora 68). Subs not used: Murphy, Onuoha, Henry, Dunne. Booked: Mutch (56)

SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Vergini (Altidore 82), O’Shea, Brown, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell (Giaccherini 69), Johnson, Wickham, Fletcher (Buckley 69). Subs not used: Pantilimon, Jones, Bridcutt, Gomez. Booked: Cattermole (37), Giaccherini (90)

Attendance: 17,930. Referee: Robert Madley