Up in the French Alps, Monsieur Salut was about to negotiate the “highest road in Europe” – the mountain pass was closed so he had to make do with the second, third of whatever highest – when he glanced at the pages of L’Equipe and found a report of the Sunderland 3 QPR 1 match. Almost entirely devoted to Cissé’s folly. Pete Sixsmith can add the French press to his media targets …
There is an old maxim that goes: “There are no easy games in the Premier League.”
Wrong – Saturday’s game against QPR was as easy a game as you will see, largely due to the fact that we are a good side who played well and partly due to QPR being absolutely bloody awful.
Martin O’Neill must have gone home immensely satisfied by this sharp and crisp performance which was clearly that of a well established Premier League club. The outfield players all did exactly what they had to do and the strong words he had with them in deepest, darkest Lancashire on Tuesday night, clearly had an effect.
A few weeks ago, the Londoncentric media were delirious at the prospect of Cissé and Zamora banging in the goals to preserve Rangers’ Premier League status. On Saturday, Turner and Kyrgiakos had the pair of them in their pockets throughout. The Big Greek looked as comfortable as a man in his armchair with pipe and slippers against the totally ineffective Zamora and headed the ball as far as Charlie Hurley in his heyday. Those who dismissed him after Tuesday should be aware he has strengths.
The back four was never troubled, with Bridge turning in another sound performance and linking well with McClean. A shame that O’Shea had to go off, but Gardner, when he slipped in there, looked as if he had played there for his entire career.
That change personified the difference between this regime and the previous one. Here, O’Neill used the injury to tweak things. Campbell came on to use his pace against a very pedestrian QPR team. Under Bruce, it would have been Elmohamady or Kilgallon in a straight swap – O’Neill and Walford see things that others don’t.
If we looked jaded on Tuesday, the incentive of a place in the quarter final replay line up galvanised one or two. He sensibly gave Larsson the afternoon off and played Colback and Vaughan in the centre of midfield.
Both go about their work in a quiet and surreptitious manner, winning a tackle here, laying a ball off there and sneaking into the box when the opposition aren’t looking. Colback is looking a very good player and one who could well be a cornerstone of a successful Martin O’Neill team.
And then there is James McClean. A new contract, his first goal at the SOL and a performance that will not have gone unnoticed in the Trapppattoni household; he really has been a revelation.
The cross that he plonked in front of Nick Bendtner was an absolute gem that just sat up and begged to be put away – and it was. He tortured Luke Young, tackled like a full back on a couple of occasions and never stopped running and bounding about like Tigger on speed. His best performance so far and we hope there is even better to come.
Sess and Bendtner linked up well and both scored. What more do we want from a strike partnership? They are very different players – one is all action and bustling energy, the other as languid looking and laid back as an Old Etonian Cabinet Minister. They are developing a good working relationship and some of those around me are even beginning to realise that Bendtner is actually a good player – although the man two rows in front seems to think he should be more like Lee Howey.
It was a very competent performance, admittedly against the poorest side I have seen at the Stadium this season – and that includes us on grim days. Rangers clearly saw the effect that a change of manager had on our fortunes and decided to follow suit. Unfortunately for them, we had plucked the best available manager from the top of the tree and all they had to choose from lay on the lower branches.
When our vacancy came up, I leaned towards Hughes at first before becoming convinced that O’Neill was the man. I still think Hughes is a decent manager, but he has one hell of a job on his hands if he is to stop QPR from going back from whence they came.
Wasting large amounts of money on an overweight clown like Zamora doesn’t make the job any easier. His pathetic attempt to get The Greek sent off was what I would expect from a player who has been blown up out of all proportion by the London press – just like Scott Parker, Mark Noble and a whole load of other average players who happen to play in The Great Wen.
Cissé deserved to go for a foolish tackle and I was surprised to hear the applause that he got as he stomped off. Fine before the game but most certainly not fine when he has just crashed into one of our players. He’s another one who, if he was half as good as he thought he was, would make Messi look like John Lathan. Give me Sess any day.
And so, the nerves tighten in preparation for tomorrow night. Cattermole is available and I would imagine that Bardsley and Larsson will be refreshed. O’Shea may struggle to make it. The Toffees had a good win at Swansea and will be in good heart. But in Sessegnon we have a player who can do the unexpected and I am hoping that he will provide the catalyst to take us to the semi final and ultimately the Final.
A tense and exciting night beckons. Ha’way The Lads.