SUNDERLAND’S unbeaten start to the season came to a grinding halt at newly-promoted QPR.
The Black Cats paid the price for conceding in first half stoppage time at Loftus Road, against a QPR side who had come away empty-handed from their first two Premier League outings.
Gus Poyet’s side began the game in the ascendancy, with Patrick van Aanholt and Steven Fletcher both going close.
But QPR, who had earlier seen a Charlie Austin header cleared off the line, gradually ranked up the pressure and after Leroy Fer had hit the crossbar, they netted just before the break through Austin.
The second half was a scrappy affair, compared to the openness of the first, with substitute Emanuele Giaccherini going closest for Sunderland with a minute to go.
Poyet reverted to the bulk of the side which drew against Manchester United last weekend, although there was one notable change with Adam Johnson replacing Will Buckley, despite the latter’s impressive performance against Louis van Gaal’s side.
After experimenting with three centre-halves at the start of the season, QPR boss Harry Redknapp reverted to a more orthodox back four, with three changes from the side which were thumped 4-0 at Spurs in their previous Premier League outing.
Clint Hill came in at left-back, while Charlie Austin and Junior Hoilett were included up front at the expense of Armand Traore and ex-Newcastle loanee Loic Remy, who is in talks with Chelsea.
Sunderland went close within the first 30 seconds when Connor Wickham collected the ball on halfway, powered down the left-flank, held off the challenge of Joey Barton as he got into the penalty area and then pulled it back.
Patrick van Aanholt raced onto the loose ball and struck a powerful left-footed shot which rippled the side netting at the near post.
In a breathless start to the game, Wickham then cleared off the line at the other end when Austin met Barton’s corner from the left.
Austin’s header was looping back across goal into the bottom corner, but Wickham calmly booted it clear.
A finger-tip save from Rob Green denied Steven Fletcher in the 11th minute, at the end of a flowing Sunderland move.
Johnson played a one-two with Wickham just inside the QPR half, before threading a slide-rule pass down the inside left channel.
There was plenty of pace on the ball, but Fletcher managed to get a touch with his outstretched left foot to redivert it towards the far corner, only for Green to parry low to his left.
Sunderland had another sight of goal in the 18th minute when Johnson was allowed to turn and run at the QPR back-line from just inside their half, before he played a perfectly-weighted crossfield right-footed pass into the path of van Aanholt.
The left-back hit a first-time right-footed shot from the edge of the area which cleared the crossbar by a foot.
QPR were still a threat at the other end though, with the woodwork sparing Sunderland in the 31st minute.
New signing Leroy Fer unleashed a thumping right-footed shot from 25 yards which crashed against the underside of the bar before bouncing out again.
Wickham tried his luck from distance four minutes later, with a low, dipping effort that drifted a yard wide.
Six minutes before the interval, Junior Hoilett found a yard on the far left-hand side of the Sunderland area before hitting a right-foot shot which Vito Mannone gathered at the second attempt.
QPR ended the half strongly, with Wes Brown producing a magnificent last-gasp challenge after Sunderland were caught dallying in their own half, before Mannone then produced an inch-perfect interception to deny Austin when he would have been clean through.
The pressure from the hosts eventually paid off in first-half stoppage time when Barton’s left wing corner was headed back into the danger area by Fer, before the unmarked Austin smashed it into the net.
HALF-TIME QPR 1 Sunderland 0
Santiago Vergini came close to levelling proceedings in the 54th minute when Fletcher’s low cross from the left drifted all the way through to the right-back at the far side of the area.
Vergini hit a first-time shot off the outside of his right boot which Green gathered low to his left.
The second half lacked the openness of the first though, with the game becoming increasingly scrappy and neither side really threatening.
QPR almost doubled their advantage with four minutes to go when Bobby Zamora threaded the ball in behind the Sunderland back-line for fellow substitute Armand Traore, but the former Arsenal man scuffed his shot wide of the far post.
Moments later, van Aanholt’s scuffed shot from the edge of the area was deflected just wide.
With a minute to go, Mannone came up for Johnson’s right wing corner and the ball was only cleared as far as Emanuele Giaccherini on the edge of the area, whose deflected shot stung the palms of Green.
FULL-TIME QPR 1 Sunderland 0
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)