Sunderland 3 QPR 1

WRAPPING someone up in cotton wool could have a suffocating effect, which is something Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill wants to avoid with James McClean.

James McClean scores Sunderland's second goal during their match against QPR
James McClean scores Sunderland's second goal during their match against QPR

WRAPPING someone up in cotton wool could have a suffocating effect, which is something Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill wants to avoid with James McClean.

Only those who hate football would want to stifle a talent like the 22-year-old left-winger.

With each passing performance, McClean further enhances his reputation and the mind boggles as to how far this young lad can go in the game.

But a more pressing question for Sunderland is how long they will continue to see McClean dazzle the Wearside faithful.

Because the more attention he garners, the stronger the likelihood that managers of the Premier League’s big four will start to take notice.

His progress is a credit to the staff at Sunderland and a huge nod to League of Ireland side Derry City who gave the youngster his first major platform. Credit also to former Cats manager Steve Bruce for signing him and special credit to current boss O’Neill.

Irish sport is full of folk who have taken a gamble and seen it pay off. The wealth of various horse racing trainers across the Irish Sea speaks for itself, while snooker legend Alex Higgins would make an outrageous frame-clinching shot when others would play safe.

O’Neill will recall how his old Northern Ireland boss, Billy Bingham, took a huge gamble on taking a boy fresh out of school to a World Cup and seeing Norman Whiteside evolve into a man as the team he skippered enjoyed their finest hour.

So for an Irishman to take a punt on a raw rookie like McClean should not be a complete surprise.

We saw McClean trick, dance and weave his way along the left wing to completely bamboozle Queens Park Rangers throughout. Aside from digging a hole in the ground and covering it with leaves in the hope he would tread on them, it is hard to see what more Mark Hughes’ side could have done to contain him.

Meanwhile, on the QPR bench, one old hand could only look on and think of what might have been.

Redemption seemed to be on its way for controversial midfielder Joey Barton during the latter two years of his career at Newcastle United, only for him to give in to the urge to play the clown again and vent forth on Twitter.

Now he’s more famous for his 140-character rants on the social networking site than his footballing ability.

Indeed, given his displays on the pitch for QPR this season, there seems to be no other option than to have a gander at what he’s railing against this time and who is this week’s ‘nugget’, as he would put it.

So instead of warming up and getting himself ready should his manager need to put him on as a substitute, Joey decided that being numpty-in-chief was more important than being professional.

Flashing up five fingers to one to remind the Sunderland fans of a certain derby fiasco, it all backfired as soon as McClean started to work his magic and the Black Cats began to rattle in the goals.

As for his post-match Tweets, contemptible doesn’t even begin to describe it – even if the film he referred to starring Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds is widely acclaimed. Childish sideshow aside, Sunderland played some decent football and deserved the plaudits as QPR were brushed aside.

McClean’s high and dipping cross was expertly controlled by Nicklas Bendtner as he placed a superb header past the despairing Paddy Kenny before half-time.

Number two came when McClean latched on to his own rebound to crash home a shot, despite the combined efforts of ex-Black Cats defenders Anton Ferdinand and Nedum Onuoha.

Number three came when McClean’s deft flick released David Vaughan down the left. The Welshman drilled the ball across the area leaving Stéphane Sessègnon the easiest of goals.

QPR did pull one back soon after when Taye Taiwo hit in a delightful curling free-kick.

But that could take nothing away from Sunderland – and especially the meteoric rise of James McClean.

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