David Moyes has found respite of sorts in the League Cup. What had appeared an awkward trip to Queens Park Rangers eventually yielded a much needed and morale boosting victory, a youthful Sunderland team even recovering a deficit en route to progressing. In the context of the angst which grips almost on a weekly basis back in the Premier League, this almost felt restorative.
It was squeezed via a late rally and from an unlikely source. Paddy McNair’s fledgling career with Manchester United and, since his £4.5m summer switch to Wearside had never previously been decorated with a senior goal. Yet here was the boyhood playmaker turned professional defender ambling forward from a midfield brief to plunder a brace and jettison the locals from the competition. Both goals were smartly taken, the second rammed into a gaping net after Matt Ingram had pushed away Didier Ndong’s angled drive.
The 22-year-old looked as shocked as any to have prospered so far up-field, albeit his celebration came more naturally second time. “There’s a wee bit of a misconception with Paddy because he’s naturally an attacking midfielder,” offered Moyes, whose side will confront Southampton at St Mary’s in the next round. “He was a No10 as a boy but, as he grew, he dropped back. Maybe he’ll end up a centre-half or midfielder, but he strikes the ball cleanly and is a good finisher. Even tonight he played alongside [Jan] Kirchhoff, but I think he’s better as an attacking midfielder.”
After an own goal on debut at Manchester City, this was McNair making a properly positive impact. How Sunderland needed this, even against a QPR team whose early season form in the second tier has rather fizzled out.
The visitors boasted the greater threat all evening but, with Jermain Defoe rested and not among the travelling party, they had lacked the bite to finish off Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink’s selection of youngsters, squad players and seniors rendered rusty by a lack of game-time. While Ingram excelled in the home goal, denying Duncan Watmore most impressively with an early finger-tip save, frustration mounted among Moyes and his coaching staff. It would take a concession for them to find their radar.
QPR’s threat had been rather sporadic when, on the hour-mark, Sunderland struggled to clear a corner and Joel Lynch nodded back towards the edge of the penalty area. There loitered Sandro, the Brazilian midfielder unmarked but already tiring on only his second appearance of term, to conjure a wonderfully acrobatic left-footed volley which soared beyond Jordan Pickford and into the corner. Sandro, a throwback to a more lavish era at this club, has entered the final year of his £50,000-a-week contract at Loftus Road and had almost joined Sporting Lisbon in the summer. This was him staking a case for greater involvement.
“Sandro has got the quality, we all know that, and we spoke after the transfer window,” said Hasselbaink. “I told him he would be judged on what he does, in training and in games, and will be treated like any other. He had a desire to go. He’s still here, still my player, and he’s conducting himself really well in training and pushing himself forward for that starting position. He was a leader today and played ever so well.” The goal was actually his third in two League Cup ties this season. His snarl remains from his Premier League days, together with flashes of his quality. Full match fitness is a work in progress.
Yet his reward would not prove enough to secure progress. McNair’s slick exchange with Watmore, via a desperate QPR challenge en route, opened up the home defence and allowed the Northern Ireland international to slide an equaliser through Ingram. The winner would soon follow, with Moyes left to revel in the energy of Ndong on the right, the promise of Lynden Gooch and Joel Asoro, and the return of Patrick van Aanholt after the weekend’s confusion over his late withdrawal at Tottenham Hotspur.
The virus which had apparently warped the results of a heart scan has now passed. Sunderland intend to release a further statement in the next 48 hours in the hope of clarifying the process which led to the full-back’s omission. After that they have a visit from Crystal Palace which suddenly feels like an opportunity.
“This won’t change our season, but it’s a good win,” added Moyes. “We wanted to get a bit of momentum going. I hope it’s the start of a run of wins, but also to a bit of belief and confidence. Getting that winning feeling around the club.” He will hope this was a springboard to much-needed Premier League improvement.