Big match preview: Cats can capitalise on QPR’s back three

Sunderland's driving force, Lee Cattermole
Sunderland's driving force, Lee Cattermole
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THERE was one notable, if predictable, omission from the England squad named yesterday lunchtime.

The absence of Lee Cattermole from Roy Hodgson’s slightly experimental selection will have shocked no-one on Wearside.

It was far easier for the England manager to make those safe choices of Fabian Delph and Jack Colback, with the latter’s move across the Great Divide strangely transforming his international prospects in an instant.

Regardless of a series of outstanding performances in a Sunderland shirt since April, Cattermole remains dogged by reputation.

The lazy perception of Cattermole is that he’s an old-fashioned hacker; a hot-head who loses his rag when things start to go wrong and promptly smashes into the first opposition shirt which drifts into his sights.

Now, there is, of course, some substance to that stereotyped view. Seven Premier League red cards have not arrived by accident.

But Cattermole is maturing in his more controlled role under Gus Poyet and, with a lack of holding midfielders at Hodgson’s disposal, he surely warranted a closer look.

Poyet does not think there’s a better English defensive midfielder in the country at the moment. He has a point.

The absence of the Teessider from this week’s languid League Cup victory at Birmingham City demonstrated how important he is as Sunderland’s driving force.

He will be the first name back on the team-sheet tomorrow as Poyet restores his first-choice XI for the trip to Loftus Road.

But while the reputation Cattermole earned from his younger years is now out-dated, there remains plenty of substance to the “wheeler-dealer” tag associated with Harry Redknapp.

The QPR boss has almost become a caricature of himself with those deadline day chats from the window of his Range Rover and the not particularly subtle confirmations of his interest in a player after initially claiming that he couldn’t possibly comment.

Redknapp’s problem – as it was in QPR’s last Premier League experience – is getting the new boys to gel.

So far, there has been precious little evidence of that.

No points, out of the cup and, more worryingly, a lack of fight and organisation as they were thumped 4-0 at Spurs last weekend.

The back three system, which Redknapp has brought Glenn Hoddle in to oversee, is yet to demonstrate it can prevent QPR returning instantly to the Championship.

Manchester United looked utterly vulnerable in that same formation last weekend and Sunderland must prey upon QPR’s similar teething problems tomorrow.

A back three of Richard Dunne, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker evidently lacks pace and there will be opportunities on the counter-attack when Redknapp’s wing-backs are pushed forward.

That may prompt Poyet to keep faith in Will Buckley after the ex-Brighton winger’s sparkling debut last weekend.

Buckley is the swiftest threat in Poyet’s attacking arsenal and showed against Manchester United that he is an awkward customer for wing-backs to contain.

But if Buckley is restored to the first-choice starting XI, it may not necessarily equate to Adam Johnson being relegated to the bench.

Poyet has so far used Connor Wickham as a makeshift left-sided forward, but, with Johnson and Buckley now available, he has the option to use two orthodox widemen.

On the evidence so far this season, Wickham has been the sharpest of the three strikers available to Poyet and needs to be restored to a central role sooner, rather than later.

The balance of that front three is again Poyet’s major selection dilemma tomorrow.

The make-up of the rest of the side is likely to be more predictable.

Cattermole, Patrick van Aanholt, Jack Rodwell and Vito Mannone should all return to the fold after they were unused substitutes at Birmingham.

Sunderland will need to improve significantly from that performance at St Andrews, albeit the Black Cats did what mattered and progressed to the next round of the cup.

But that display followed sloppy passages of play in Sunderland’s two Premier League outings, where that slackness cost them the chance of victory against vulnerable opposition.

Poyet will need more from his players if they are to record that first league win this weekend.

Verdict: Draw