Big match verdict: Sunderland need Scocco to hit the ground running

Nacho Scocco
Nacho Scocco
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NACHO SCOCCO has been serving as the translator among Sunderland’s contingent of three Argentine internationals.

After learning rudimentary English during his stint in the Middle East with Al-Ain, Scocco has helped to bridge the significant lingual barrier with fellow January arrivals Oscar Ustari and Santiago Vergini.

All three are likely to feature in tomorrow’s fourth meeting of the season with Southampton, yet it is Scocco who needs to do some talking on the field.

Of all Sunderland’s January arrivals, the £4million forward was the one which captured the imagination of supporters.

A quick tour of YouTube clips demonstrated Scocco’s knack for scoring the spectacular and it is that craft, flair and creativity which Gus Poyet is desperate to add to the Wearsiders’ attack.

Poyet expected Scocco to take several weeks before he was ready to genuinely compete for a starting berth, after only beginning his pre-season at Brazilian club Internacional before arriving at the Stadium of Light.

This weekend’s FA Cup fifth round encounter with Southampton provides an obvious and welcome opportunity to get some minutes under his belt.

But the harsh reality is that Sunderland need Scocco to hit the ground running.

That is unfair on a player who has never featured in the Premier League before and ideally needs time to come to grips with the physical and tempo difference in English football.

Sunderland don’t have time on their side, though.

They have three months to beat the drop and need a player of Scocco’s undoubted ability to contribute towards Sunderland’s survival bid, even if that is on hold this weekend.

Scocco gives Poyet options – he can use the 28-year-old in a central role or introduce him out wide to allow Fabio Borini to operate down the middle.

But it is the knack of conjuring something out of nothing which is Scocco’s greatest asset.

Too many times over the course of the last two seasons, Sunderland have meandered down blind alleys at the Stadium of Light when struggling sides have arrived and sat deep.

They need someone capable of unlocking a heavily guarded gate with a pivotal moment of magic, even if it is from the bench.

In tense, scrappy encounters against other teams at the wrong end of the table – and there are five to come on Wearside – such a player is a huge asset.

Not that tomorrow’s encounter is likely to follow that cat and mouse pattern.

Southampton showed in a hugely impressive opening 45 minutes at the Stadium of Light last month the quality, method and potency in their ranks.

If Mauricio Pochettino fields a full-strength side against a Sunderland XI that will doubtless feature several fringe players, then the Saints will fancy their chances of progressing into the quarter-finals.

But that’s a big if.

Pochettino paid the price for making 10 changes in the League Cup defeat on Wearside and he is again expected to shuffle his pack tomorrow, albeit not quite so significantly.

Should the likes of Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert feature though, it will be a major test for a Sunderland defence likely to include Vergini, Carlos Cuellar and Ondrej Celustka.

Inevitably, Poyet has to keep his squad happy by giving his fringe players a run-out and that may come at the cost of ending hopes of a second trip to Wembley.

Arguably, a draw would be even worse than defeat, though.

Sunderland can ill-afford a trip to the south coast added to an already hectic fixture schedule, particularly with games against West Brom, Manchester City and potentially Liverpool all still to be rearranged for midweek.

Given how the schedule is getting more and more hectic though, it would be typical if that was the outcome.

Verdict: Draw

Twitter @youngsunecho