Following Mark Hughes' sacking last week and the return of Harry Redknapp to club management, most eyes will be on QPR this evening as they make the lengthy trek to the northeast. Yet, following Saturday's home defeat, Martin O'Neill and Sunderland's need for a boost has rarely been greater.
Saturday's loss to the Baggies was compounded by the further loss of two key players to injury for O'Neill. Captain Lee Cattermole hobbled off before half-time, while centre back John O'Shea failed to return for the second half. As a result, Sunderland are likely to recall Craig Gardner to the starting lineup in midfield, while Matt Kilgallon is expected to deputise in central defence alongside Carlos Cuellar.
Queens Park Rangers News
Harry Redknapp has almost a full-strength squad to choose from for his opening game in charge of the R's - with long-term absentee strikers Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson the only exceptions. Jose Bosingwa's return from injury is likely to see him usurp Stephane Mbia at right-back, while many expect Samba Diakite to dislodge Shaun Derry in midfield. Up front, Djibril Cisse will hope for a better return to Wearside than last time around, when he was dismissed for an ugly challenge on Fraizer Campbell.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, Cuellar, Kilgallon, Rose; Larsson, Gardner, Colback, Johnson; Sessegnon; Fletcher,
QPR: Cesar; Bosingwa, Hill, Nelsen, Traore; Diakite; Mackie, Granero, Faurlin, Taarabt; Cisse
Key Matchup: Jack Colback Vs Esteban Granero
Shorn of Lee Cattermole, Sunderland will likely rely on the young Colback to suppress any midfield dominance the visitors may look to exert. Should they indeed look to do this, it will be via former Real Madrid man Esteban Granero. The creative Spaniard has been one of QPR's sole bright sparks this season, and is a proven quality footballer.
Granero recently revealed how current Real boss Jose Mourinho would have liked to keep Granero in Madrid - glowing praise indeed. With a keen eye for goal, as shown in QPR's defeat to West Brom earlier this season, Granero is likely to try and trouble Simon Mignolet from deep, as well as seeking to dictate play in the middle and stretching Sunderland's midfield. Colback, with the aid of Craig Gardner, will need to be on his best defensive form to keep him at bay.
Recent Form: LDLLL
Loss: Arsenal 1-0 Queens Park Rangers (Arteta 84)
Draw: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Reading (Cisse 66; Gorkss 16)
Loss: Stoke City 1-0 Queens Park Rangers (Adam 52)
Loss: Queens Park Rangers 1-3 Southampton (Hoilett 49; Lambert 23, Puncheon 45+1, Ferdinand (og) 83)
Loss: Manchester United 3-1 Queens Park Rangers (Evans 64, Fletcher 68, Hernandez 72; Mackie 52)
Last Time Around: Sunderland 3-1 Queens Park Rangers, 24/03/12
Sunderland's final victory of the 2011/12 season came back in March, when QPR - then managed by Mark Hughes - were swept aside convincingly. Djibril Cisse's second half red card for a lunge on Fraizer Campbell did little to help the away side's cause but, in truth, the Wearsiders had been well in control even before then.
After a sustained period of first half pressure, the Black Cats finally took the lead five minutes before the break, when loanee Nicklas Bendtner nodded home from a James McClean cross. The Irishman turned from provider into scorer in the second half, firing home a low effort to seal the points. Stephane Sessegnon's tap-in finished off a delightful team move to make it three; Taye Taiwo's excellent free-kick ten minutes from the end was nought but a consolation for a QPR side that stayed up by the skin of its teeth on the final day.
The Ref: Andre Marriner
Sunderland fans don't much like Andre Marriner. Indeed, two games in the 2009/10 season pretty much did for him on Wearside. First, in a hard-fought 2-2 draw with West Ham United, he saw fit to dismiss Kenwyne Jones for the most paltry of pushes on Herita Ilunga. Not content with the ire that drew, he then ended any chances of Sunderland claiming a point at Manchester City a week prior to Christmas, sending off Michael Turner for an alleged elbow in the most innocuous of aerial battles with Gareth Barry.
That said, he did oversee a rare non-losing trip to Goodison Park back in March, as Sunderland secured a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup Fifth Round. Furthermore, he took charge of the return fixture with QPR last season; MArtin O'Neill's men running out 3-2 winners at Loftus Road. As for the R's themselves, Marriner last refereed them in September's 0-0 home stalemate with local rivals Chelsea.
What The Managers Said
It's the way of football that a new manager can come in and results can instantly improve.
Certainly that is what Queens Park Rangers will hope for, and we'll be conscious of the fact that they'll come in and results can instantly improve.
But we have to go out there and show what we can do. I've been pleased with the quality of our performances in recent weeks, if not the results, and we just have to keep trying to take it up a notch every game now.
We're in a position in the league where things are so tight - we're two or three points away from the relegation zone and two or three points from mid-table - so we know what's at stake.
The lads I [have] met were all upbeat.
They're in this position because they haven't performed to their capabilities. They've got to do better.
They've lost a good manager in Mark - he's been unfortunate. The players have to take the responsibility. They're the ones that are playing. They've got to get their performance level up now and get us out of trouble.
I feel that with a bit of confidence we can climb the table.
Roker Report Predicts
Sunderland seem to have a history of granting sides a reprieve from awful form (not to mention players - remember Ade Akinbiyi?!). With QPR winless in their last 14 away games - 13 of which have been lost - an opening win for Harry Redknapp would scarcely be a surprise to fans on Wearside.
Yet, QPR have been woeful thus far, and even the bump on a new manager may struggle to turn their fortunes around quite this quickly. Sunderland, too, have been poor, but there are continuing signs of progress in an attacking sense. Given QPR's defensive frailties, a problem Redknapp has had extremely limited time to properly address, a timely home victory may well be on the cards.