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Substitute goalkeeper Rob Green ensured Harry Redknapp’s reign as Queens Park Rangers manager started with a positive result after making a stunning save to deny Steven Fletcher in a goalless draw at Sunderland. The former England No 1 lawed away the Scotland forward’s 64th-minute header on a night when Redknapp saw plenty to persuade him that his cause may not be a forlorn one.
Green replaced the injured Julio Cesar, who had made a vital block to deny Fletcher, at the break and stood firm as the visitors turned in a spirited display at the Stadium of Light. Home goalkeeper Simon Mignolet also had to be at his best to keep out ex-Sunderland striker Djibril Cisse as well as Jamie Mackie and he was relieved to see midfielder Stephane Mbia blast a long-range effort inches wide. Ultimately, Redknapp’s men left the north-east still without a Barclays Premier League win this season but with a fifth point of the campaign which extended the Black Cats’ difficult run to just two wins in 21 outings.
On a night when Wearside was lashed by wind and rain, the teams found it difficult to create much quality in a tight contest, but there were chances and both sides could conceivably gone in at the break ahead.
The visitors, of course, had an opportunity to try to persuade their new manager that they have a part to play in his brave new world at Loftus Road and Adel Taarabt, in particular, seemed keen to take up the challenge. He produced much of what was admirable about the R’s attacking play to link well with Cisse and it was perhaps significant that for much of the half it was Sunderland left-back Danny Rose who was Martin O’Neill’s most enterprising performer.
Cisse might have got Rangers off to the perfect start when Taarabt picked him out unmarked at the far post with a fourth-minute cross but his downward header ended up safely in the arms of Mignolet. Craig Gardner whistled a free-kick just wide seconds later but Sunderland were forced into an early reshuffle after O’Neill’s gamble on captain Lee Cattermole’s knee injury backfired when he limped off after a 50-50 challenge with Samba Diakite.
Mignolet was extended much further with 12 minutes gone when, after Taarabt had twice combined with Esteban Granero, Cisse curled a right-foot shot towards the bottom corner and saw it tipped around a post at the last minute. The same player then smashed a 19th-minute drive just wide.
Mignolet was then called upon to make a vital block to keep out Mackie seven minutes before the interval, and he was indebted to his defenders as bodies were thrown into the path of follow-ups from Taarabt and Cisse as the Londoners sensed a goal.
Fletcher got his first sniff of goal four minutes before the break after being played in by Adam Johnson but he found Julio Cesar equal to the task. Julio Cesar, who had picked up a knock during the first half, failed to re-appear after the break and was replaced by Green and it was his side who threatened first after the restart when Granero headed Armand Traore’s cross at the opposing keeper. Mbia was then given time and space to drill a 25-yard effort just past a post with Mignolet at full stretch. However, it was Green who had to demonstrate his quality with 64 minutes gone when Fletcher met Sebastian Larsson’s inswinging corner with a downward header that seemed destined for the net until the goalkeeper blocked it one-handed and then clutch it to his body.
Redknapp replaced Diakite with Park Ji-sung seconds later but Sunderland threatened next as Clint Hill was booked for a clumsy challenge on Jack Colback inches outside the penalty area, although Gardner’s free-kick was blocked easily by Granero. Larsson tested Green with a skidding strike from distance nine minutes from time but the goalkeeper got down well to claim it.
The locals implored their side to attack as the clock ran down with the visitors retreating but it was Rangers who might have snatched victory at the death when Cisse, Granero and Mackie combined to set up substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips, only for Mignolet to block with his legs.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: "It was a rather frustrating evening, I think frustration would sum it up. It was tough for us. Losing Cattermole so early on in the game disrupted us somewhat, but even so, that's a handicap you have to overcome.
"It was his other knee that he hurt, funnily enough, in the block challenge and as we speak now, he's in a lot of pain, so that would be a blow to us if that was the case. It seemed as if it was the same knee - I thought immediately that was the case - but it's not, it's his other knee."
QPR manager Harry Redknapp: "It was a good point. We worked hard in training yesterday on how we were going to play, and we got the best out of what we had, and you can't do any more than that.
"It's going to be tough, we mustn't kid ourselves. You look at the position we are in - it's very, very difficult. But I can see there are some decent players there. We need to play as a team and be a team and if we can put them together and get them to work together, we have got a chance. You can only work with what you have got, can't you? I can't pluck anyone out of the air at the moment. You can't bring anybody in, you have just got to get the best out of the players who are here.
"[Julio Cesar] did his groin, he tore a groin. He's a good pro, I have been impressed with him as a boy. You can see why he has played at the very, very top and what he's done in the game. But he went off and then Rob made a great save when he came on, so we are lucky there, we have got two good ‘keepers."
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