Sunderland head into Saturday’s vital Premier League home date with Watford still in the basement spot – but not without hope.
The Black Cats went down 1-0 last night to Chelsea in the bottom against top confrontation.
Only a beautifully-taken 40th-minute goal by Cesc Fabregas, after a neat exchange of passes, was the difference between the clubs who started the night separated by 26 points at the Stadium of Light.
Indeed, but for an amazing injury-time save by Thibaut Courtois, the Black Cats would have clinched an unlikely point, which would have lifted them to 18th.
Here are five things we learned from the match.
Sunderland need Victor Anichebe:
While they are hardly a one-man-team, the side can certainly do with the return of Big Vic. Boss David Moyes was very coy about the powerhouse forward, refusing to comment about his injury or his prospects to be fit to face the Hornets.
While Sunderland fashioned several decent chances last night, there was nowhere for the ball to ‘stick’ against Chelsea – too often possession was coughed up as soon as it was won.
For the last five weeks, he has been a focal point for the Cats and how they could do with his presence this Saturday.
Fabio Borini gets vital game-time:
He skied a decent chance and offered scant threat, but it was great to see the striker back in a red & white shirt.
With injuries/ suspension biting, it was probably a case of needs-must for Moyes last night in starting the Italian.
Borini has been out with a thigh injury ever since the 1-1 draw at Southampton back in August.
Clearly short on match-fitness and sharpness, an 80-minute stint will have been of great benefit with a busy and vital period coming up.
He may need a bit of time to recover after his shift given he was blowing hard, but getting those minutes under his belt will be vital, given he looks the natural replacement for the injured Duncan Watmore.
Adnan Januzaj dusts off ring-rust:
Januzaj has been back in the squad for a week or six following an injury lay-off but has barely seen much action.
So it was good, like Borini, that he got his legs moving again last night.
Yes, there was a bit of rust there, but there were some moments of encouragement, a nice touch here and a good run there.
The Belgian had two of the best home views of goal, putting a first-half shot into the crowd after one of the team’s best moves, and then being denied by compatriot Courtois in the second period.
Would a match-sharp Januzaj have taken either or both chances? Who knows, but having a player of pace and skill back at this crucial time is a boost.
It’s good to have Wahbi Khazri back in mix:
Continuing the theme of players shaking of the cobwebs, it was nice to see the gifted Tunisian back on the field.
Khazri has been out in the proverbial cold since the 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal at the end of October.
He was sent on for a late cameo in place of the tired Borini, but put himself about as Sunderland staged a late flurry against the leaders.
Khazri possesses flair and his eye for a pass will be important for the visit of Watford which looks a must-win game.
Sunderland show they can compete with the best:
You would not be shocked if this Chelsea side went all the way to the title. Antonio Conte’s team have won 10 in a row, a sequence that includes eight clean sheets.
But the Black Cats gave the Blues a fright and it required two splendid Courtois saves to deny them a point.
Yes, Chelsea controlled matters and dominated possession, 66% to the home side’s 34, but Sunderland competed and made chances against the meanest defence in the business.
They went all the way too, Patrick Van Aanholt’s injury-time screamer proof of that with the away keeper producing a flying save.
Spirit is not an issue, nor is their defensive strength as Lamine Kone, John O’Shea and Papy Djilobodji displayed that the Black Cats are very adept playing with three central defenders when they need to.
It’s certainly not doom and gloom if the Black Cats can repeat this sort of effort on a consistent basis, starting this Saturday against Watford.