Chris Young: January signings immediately make Sunderland more like an ‘Allardyce side’

John O'Shea reacts after missing a chance to level
John O'Shea reacts after missing a chance to level
0
Have your say

The appointment of Sam Allardyce almost four months ago promised several developments at the Stadium of Light, based on the 61-year-old’s previous managerial reigns.

Solid, defensively resilient and dogged were all traits conjured up in the mental picture of how Sunderland would perform in the Allardyce era.

Sunderland looked much more like an Allardyce side - physical, compact and believing they could knock the noses out of joint of one the big boys.

While it may not have been particularly attractive, Sunderland needed all those facets of the game restoring after the frighteningly open set-up under Dick Advocaat.

But other than a game or two, Sunderland have rarely showed any of those tendencies since Allardyce’s arrival.

The 29 goals conceded in 16 Premier League outings since he took charge, is a distinctly ‘un-Allardyceish’ statistic.

A first clean sheet since November failed to materialise last night, as the first of four daunting February fixtures culminated in defeat.

But Sunderland looked much more like an Allardyce side - physical, compact and believing they could knock the noses out of joint of one the big boys.

That was why the January transfer window was so important for Allardyce, to begin to make his mark on this club.

The existing players clearly weren’t doing it. The pattern of too many sloppy mistakes, too many lapses of concentration and too many desperately soft goals showed no signs of halting.

Sergio Aguero’s opener still fell into the latter category last night after Billy Jones gave the Argentine a four-yard radius to gather the ball and deftly dink it beyond Vito Mannone.

But Mannone didn’t have another save to make.

Sunderland looked far more like a side of Allardyce’s vision with the new boys in their midst.

Lamine Kone had promised to add power and pace to Sunderland’s back-line and he did just that with a superb debut, albeit he spurned a glorious opportunity of a first half equaliser.

In the air, the ex-Lorient man was dominant, he was comfortable bringing the ball out from the back and without question, he relishes a tackle.

The cruncher which left Yaya Toure lying prostrate on the turf immediately endeared him to Sunderland’s faithful.

After such a harrowing debut at Spurs, Jan Kirchhoff was equally impressive.

The word from the Sunderland camp over recent weeks has been that the German has stood out in training, despite looking so lost at White Hart Lane, and the ex-Bayern Munich man showed what a difference a bit of match fitness can make.

As the holding midfielder, Kirchhoff kept it simple, but he prevented City developing any kind of fluency in their attacking play and also countered the behemoth of Yaya Toure.

It was some transformation in Kirchhoff’s public opinion ratings that he was climbing the stairs to the corporate hospitality areas of the Stadium of Light afterwards to collect the Man of the Match Prize.

Until the finale, Wahbi Khazri was largely limited to pressing and closing down City’s players, but he showed his undoubted quality on the ball as the game wore on.

He was unfortunate not to net direct from a corner on a couple of two occasions and provided a poise, composure and creativity on the ball when he was fed possession in the final third.

It wasn’t just Khazri as a sole attacking threat though. After an opening 25 minutes when the isolated Jermain Defoe was operating in a different post-code, the Black Cats gradually began to put their title-chasing visitors on the back foot.

There was a welcome bite, tempo and physicality to Sunderland’s play which ruffled City.

Allardyce’s men had their chances too - Defoe denied by a wonderful finger-tip save from Joe Hart, before Billy Jones just couldn’t squeeze the ball between goalkeeper and woodwork on the rebound.

And then Hart denying Jones again in the latter stages with a full-stretch parry when the ball was heading for the top corner.

Admittedly, it can often be easier for relegation-threatened sides against the big boys, when there’s no pressure or expectation riding on their shoulders.

But if Sunderland can reproduce this approach during the final 14 games, then they might just have an outside bet of remaining in the Premier League.

The pattern continues though that Sunderland’s relegation rivals continue to pick up points - Bournemouth winning at Crystal Palace and Swansea earning a point at West Brom, albeit they were denied victory in stoppage time.

The game of catch-up that Sunderland are in the midst of, is starting to look just as bleak as the one Gus Poyet faced two years ago when the Black Cats required a “miracle” to remain in the top flight.

There’s only a four point gap to fourth bottom Norwich - albeit Newcastle can leap-frog the Canaries with a win at Everton tonight. But the buffer with fifth bottom Swansea is now an alarming seven points.

Sunderland demonstrated that there is clearly the fight, determination and belief left in the dressing room to keep this club in the Premier League.

They’ll need more of it too against Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham, when they can’t afford to continue coming away empty-handed.

But Allardyce’s men need points to accompany their efforts. That’s the aspect that Allardyce still hasn’t managed to change with this side.