SUNDERLAND tasted defeat for the first time this season after going down 1-0 to Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.
Charlie Austin’s first-half goal gave Harry Redknapp’s side the points on what started as a bright game, but descended into a scrappy affair high on fouls and indiscipline.
Rangers were rewarded for scrapping the once popular but now much-maligned 3-5-2 and going to their trusted 4-4-1-1 formation, but it was Sunderland who dominated for much of the first half.
Patrick van Aanholt fired into the side netting with 30 seconds on the clock, before Connor Wickham had to clear off the line at the other end from Austin’s header.
Adam Johnson found Steven Fletcher in the 11th minute and the Scot forced a smart save out of Rob Green, who pushed Fletcher’s effort wide, while van Aanholt benefited from Johnson’s vision, collecting his slide rule pass before firing high and wide.
For all Sunderland’s endeavour and brightness, Rangers looked capable of causing problems of their own, and Leroy Fer smacked the crossbar from 25 yards on the half-hour, while David Hoilett’s shot from the edge of the area drew a block from Mannone who collected at the second attempt.
After then, Sunderland seemed to crumble. Lee Cattermole, who had been backed by his manager for international selection this week owing to his newly-found discipline, showed a sadly familiar lack of restraint in firstly committing a silly foul on Jordan Mutch, moments before doing the same on Fer. One gained a booking, the second didn’t, when perhaps the second one was a stronger case for a yellow card from referee Bobby Madley.
QPR took full advantage of their rush of blood to the head, with Austin being denied by a Wes Brown challenge after Seb Larsson lost the ball, while Vito Mannone raced off his line to keep Matt Phillips at bay.
Sunderland were unable to see it through to half-time though, and two minutes into injury time, Rangers penetrated the red and white backline when Fer knocked down for Austin to fire home.
It became a tight, scrappy affair in the second half, with chances for Santiago Vergini and substitute Emanuele Giaccherini counting for nought, but the game sprang into life again in the final ten minutes.
Hoilett’s through-ball was snapped up by Mannone and whipped up the pitch, but Rangers got back well and defended Wickham’s attack, before Johnson’s cross for Wickham was piled into the stands by left-back Clint Hill.
Armand Traore wriggled clear of the defence from fellow substitute Bobby Zamora’s pass, but the former Arsenal left-back’s strike dropped wide of the post, while, at the other end, van Aanholt’s shot was deflected wide from Jozy Altidore’s pass.
Mannone came up for an 89th minute corner, where Giaccherini unleashed a fizzing effort that Green pawed away with aplomb, but for Rangers the points were safe and Sunderland began the long trip home with two points from their first three league games ahead of the international break.
SUNDERLAND (4-3-3): Mannone; Vergini (Altidore 82), O'Shea, Brown, van Aanholt; Rodwell (Giaccherini 69), Cattermole, Larsson; Johnson, Fletcher (Buckley 69), Wickham. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Jones, Bridcutt, Gomez.
QPR (4-3-3): Green; Isla, Ferdinand, Caulker, Hill; Fer (Taarabt 90), Barton, Mutch; Phillips, Austin (Zamora 69), Hoilett (Traore 83). Subs not used: Murphy, Traore, Onuoha, Henry, Dunne, Taarabt.