THE IRONY was not lost that the only Sunderland player to emerge with any notable credit was not even one of their own.
Danny Rose was gradually introduced to the Tottenham first-team ranks by Harry Redknapp and the pair enjoyed a warm handshake at the final whistle last night.
But with Redknapp’s White Hart Lane successor Andre Villas-Boas happy to sanction Rose’s exit, Sunderland have been very much the ones to benefit from the summer’s managerial changes in North London.
Rose has consistently been one of Sunderland’s top three performers this season and he was again the stand-out in an encounter which was as miserable as the climate.
The problem for Sunderland was that Rose was so far ahead of his team-mates, in a game where Martin O’Neill’s side realistically needed to claim all three points.
Rose was everything Sunderland weren’t – energetic, direct, pacy and eager to create.
In those regular moments when Sunderland stagnated, the England Under-21 left-back was the one player who tried to inject some urgency into proceedings.
Rose wasn’t always perfect.
He was as guilty as his team-mates of giving the ball away with sloppy passes and over-ran it on a couple of occasions when he bombed down the left.
But Rose more than made up for those moments as he showed the confidence sadly lacking elsewhere to run at the opposition and try to get in behind QPR’s well-disciplined back-line.
Rose still shows the odd moment of hesitation when his left-winger is in possession and is reluctant to burst forward on the overlap.
Yet Rose understandably wants to ensure the defensive aspect to his game comes first after only just exceeding the tally of Premier League starts he has managed for Spurs.
In that respect, the 22-year-old is not to be underestimated, doggedly sticking to his task and not allowing himself to be out-muscled with his slight stature.
Rose needed to be alert defensively last night, not so much when keeping Jamie Mackie under wraps – albeit the Scot went as close as anyone for QPR – but on those occasions when the impressive Adel Taarabt drifted inside and onto the right.
Taarabt may be a frustrating maverick and too often a defensive liability, but he is a truly gifted creative player.
The Moroccan was the most threatening player on the field with his quick feet and consumed the constant attention of both Rose and Phil Bardsley, who largely stood up to the task.
Should Tottenham be receptive to overtures over a permanent move for Rose in January though, it must be a priority for Martin O’Neill.
But, on the evidence of the season so far, there need to be several forays into the watching Ellis Short’s already-hard hit cheque book when the transfer window re-opens.
It was the same old problems for Sunderland last night as they reverted to the confidence-drained performances prior to the defeat at Everton earlier in the month.
A static and one-dimensional midfield, a lack of threat in behind and precious little support for the isolated Steven Fletcher.
There were two decent efforts for Fletcher, which required smart saves from both Julio Cesar and Rob Green, but even had Sunderland found the net, it wouldn’t have masked the problems on O’Neill’s hands.
Belief is quite clearly lacking in Sunderland’s ranks and it wasn’t aided by the early withdrawal of Lee Cattermole.
Whether the skipper should have played at all is a moot point and the gamble came at a significant cost, with an injury to his other knee likely to see the 24-year-old sidelined for a lengthy spell.
Without Cattermole, Sunderland’s midfielders are too similar – Seb Larsson, Jack Colback and Craig Gardner all carbon-copies of each other.
O’Neill organised his midfield in a strange fashion, too, with Stephane Sessegnon out on the right and Gardner almost playing as a second striker.
It didn’t work and by the time the system was rejigged midway through the first half, it was too late, as hesitancy and fear had already crept into Sunderland’s play.
When Sunderland attempted to counter-attack, it was dreadfully sluggish and QPR were able to get men behind the ball almost before the Black Cats had even entered their territory.
On the odd occasions when Sunderland’s midfielders did get into threatening positions, the extra power in QPR’s ranks proved telling as they were able to out-muscle Black Cats players off the ball.
But again it came back to that lack of runners getting the other side of Fletcher and stretching a QPR back-line that was clearly devoid of pace in central defence.
Too often, Sunderland’s dangermen received the ball with their backs to goal and the move just petered out.
Either that or it went backwards to Carlos Cuellar and the solid Matt Kilgallon, with no-one willing to take responsibility.
The failure to beat the top flight’s whipping boys keeps the Sunderland manager in a quandary.
Formations, different personnel and different positions have all been trialled to improve Sunderland’s potency, but, just as it looked as if they had turned a corner, they remain beset by an attacking impotency.
A limited minority will continue to question O’Neill’s position, but there is no great eagerness to dispense with his services as there was with Steve Bruce, even though performances may be on a par.
O’Neill just has to hope the points tally continues to slowly add up until January arrives and he is able to introduce some fresh faces, with midfield a priority.
Even more crucially, he has to hope they prove as immediately successful as Rose.