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Sunderland's winless run continues at QPR
SUNDERLAND'S miserable recent run continued as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Premier League basement boys QPR.
Despite taking the lead through Steven Fletcher's 11th goal of the season, the Black Cats were unable to prevent their winless run stretching to six matches.
Loic Remy's first-half strike hauled QPR level, before Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas both struck with long-range efforts to give Harry Redknapp's side genuine hope of avoiding the drop and pile further pressure on Sunderland, who must now be considered genuine candidates for relegation themselves.
With Wigan on FA Cup duty, Martin O'Neill's men remain six points above the drop zone. However, the Latics now have a game in hand on them, and after Norwich visit the Stadium of Light next weekend, the fixture list does not look kind to the Black Cats.
O'Neill named the same side that drew with Fulham last weekend, and just as Sunderland had started slowly against the Cottagers, so they struggled to get out of the blocks at Loftus Road.
Junior Hoilett's pace and Remy's movement enabled QPR to cause problems from the outset, and the former whistled a low shot narrowly past the post in the fourth minute.
Hoilett troubled Gardner all afternoon, and after skipping past the full-back again six minutes later, the winger dragged another low shot just wide of the upright.
Sunderland's first attempt at goal saw Alfred N'Diaye shoot well wide, but from nowhere, the visitors fashioned the opening goal of the game in the 20th minute.
It was a classic counter-attacking strike, with the visitors clearing a QPR free-kick and immediately breaking downfield, with Fletcher's back-heel releasing Stephane Sessegnon down the right.
Sessegnon skipped past two defenders before delivering a low cross that found its way to Adam Johnson at the far post. Johnson drilled the ball back across goal, and Fletcher reacted quickest to stab home his 11th goal of the season from the edge of the six-yard box.
Sunderland enjoyed a good ten-minute spell immediately after scoring, and Danny Graham might have doubled their lead when he headed over after Chris Samba's slip had enabled him to meet Seb Larsson's cross.
However, the Black Cats' brief spell in the ascendancy ended when QPR levelled somewhat fortuitously on the half-hour mark.
Andros Townsend's long-range shot was not going to trouble Simon Mignolet until it deflected into Remy's path off John O'Shea's boot. Free on the right-hand side of the area, Remy steadied himself before slotting home.
The Frenchman, who passed up an opportunity to join Newcastle in order to move to Loftus Road, was the most dangerous attacker on display before the break, and he came close to doubling his tally with a 34th-minute header that was saved low down by Mignolet.
Remy passed up an even better opportunity moments later, volleying over wastefully after Bobby Zamora nodded Hoilett's hanging cross into his path.
Sunderland tightened things up somewhat at the start of the second half, with Adam Johnson creating the first chance of the second period when he cut in from the left flank and drilled wide of the target.
Danny Rose replaced Danny Graham shortly before the hour mark, necessitating a change in formation that saw Jack Colback pushed into midfield and Sessegnon released to play in the hole behind Fletcher.
The game became increasingly scrappy after the interval, although QPR's lack of second-half fluency was due, at least in part, to the improved nature of Sunderland's pressing and tackling.
However, the visitors switched off with devastating effect 19 minutes from time. Fletcher produced a decent clearing header from his own area, but no one picked up Townsend as he loitered 25 yards from goal.
The midfielder controlled the ball adeptly, before dispatching an excellent dipping half-volley that arced into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Jenas made the game safe with a similar strike in the 90th minute, drilling home from 20 yards after Vaughan had headed Shaun Wright-Phillips' cross out of the area. Again, there was not a Sunderland defender within five yards of the former Newcastle midfielder as he drilled home.
QPR (4-4-2): Green; Bosingwa, Samba, Hill, Fabio; Townsend, Mbia, Park, Hoilett (Wright-Phillips 78); Zamora (Mackie 73), Remy (Jenas 80).
Subs (not used): Murphy (gk), Onuoha, Granero, Bothroyd.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Mignolet; Gardner, O'Shea, Bramble, Colback (Bardsley 81); Sessegnon, Larsson, N'Diaye (Vaughan 77), Johnson; Graham (Rose 57), Fletcher.
Subs (not used): Westwood (gk), Kilgallon, Cuellar, Mangane.