Richard Mennear’s analysis: Long way to go but David Moyes deserves credit for upturn in Sunderland fortunes

Jermain Defoe drives home his opener for Sunderland against Hull. Picture by Frank Reid
Jermain Defoe drives home his opener for Sunderland against Hull. Picture by Frank Reid
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Before kick-off, a huge banner with the face of Charlie Hurley and the words ‘The King’ made its way across the South Stand.

On the pitch, the great man himself was joined by members of the 1963-64 promotion-winning side, which he captained, to mark ‘Charlie Hurley Day’.

Earlier, there had been a ceremony to mark the famous gates in his name – which had stood at the entrance of the former training ground – being officially relocated to the Stadium of Light.

The atmosphere was building, the stage was set. And the current Sunderland team held up their end of the bargain when the action got underway.

After a very nervy start, in which visitors Hull City should have taken the lead, Sunderland regrouped, regained their composure and went on to secure a crucial 3-0 win.

Even in November, this was a must-win game.

Hull, despite having three wins to their name, have the worst goals for, goals against and goal difference record in the division.

Had Sunderland lost, all the good work at Bournemouth would have been cast aside and the spotlight again inevitably thrust onto David Moyes.

However, Sunderland, in a game that just about had it all and with owner Ellis Short watching on from the stands, came up trumps.

First home win of the season. Check. First clean sheet. Check. Off the bottom of the table. Check.

Even a 10-minute delay while the electricity was reinstated didn’t deter Sunderland. Instead, it seemed to inspire them.

The fans took the unorthodox break in play to get their mobile phones out, beams of light dotted around the Stadium of Light.

And there is, now, some real light at the end of the tunnel for Sunderland.

One win away at Bournemouth was never going to be enough, the Black Cats had to prove they could string back-to-back victories together and in the process cut the gap to safety to just three points.

After six points from six, this Sunderland side have proved they are capable of winning after a dismal run of 10 games without one.

Before Bournemouth, it was hard to see where the first win was going to come from.

Now Sunderland have that winning feeling ahead of a busy run of fixtures leading up to the festive season.

Victor Anichebe, Jermain Defoe and Jordan Pickford will grab the headlines. The trio have been excellent in recent weeks, with Defoe and Pickford in fine form all season.

But credit must go to the manager too. Moyes has taken a great deal of stick since taking charge and overseeing the club’s worst ever start to a league campaign.

Now that Anichebe is match-fit and the injury crisis has eased – the long-term absence of Lee Cattermole aside – Moyes has struck upon a winning system.

Defoe was too isolated earlier in the season. Having Anichebe alongside him means Sunderland can hold the ball up higher up the pitch, relieving the pressure on the defence.

Anichebe is a man mountain, his strength colossal. Defenders struggle to cope with him, with the 28-year-old excellent with his back to goal.

Defoe and Anichebe have struck up an instant partnership, with the improving Duncan Watmore adding legs to the front line. Defensively, Anichebe has helped strengthen Sunderland too. Time and time again he cleared Robert Snodgrass’s set pieces.

His arrival on a free could prove very shrewd indeed.

Moyes deserves credit for pursuing with two strikers, although against Hull it was more like a front three, with Watmore in support.

Jason Denayer, in the holding midfield role in place of the suspended Steven Pienaar, impressed, while Billy Jones continues to enjoy a good run of form.

Tactically, Sunderland were sound, they defended doggedly when called upon – Patrick van Aanholt twice clearing off the line – and proved clinical in front of goal. Clear signs of progress.

Sunderland had Pickford to thank for keeping them in the game early on, the England Under-21 ace down low to deny Dieumerci Mbokani, while Sam Clucas blasted over.

Hull didn’t capitalise on their dominant possession and should have conceded a penalty, Watmore wiped out by David Marshall. Somehow, Lee Mason waved the strong appeals away.

Sunderland were edgy and nervy in the opening stages, missing Pienaar’s composure on the ball in central midfield. Didier Ndong looked unsure of his role, at times.

Passes were going astray all over. It was a competitive first half, but the quality was poor, with Defoe’s 34th minute strike – his 150th Premier League goal – the highlight.

Anichebe, Jones and Watmore were all involved, with the latter flicking the ball on. Defoe did the rest, beating three men before rifling home.

Anichebe and then Watmore should have doubled the lead before the lights went out. They were back on soon enough as Sunderland looked to wrap up the three points.

The best player on the pitch deserved his brace. Just past the hour mark, Van Aanholt played a one-two with Watmore before laying the ball off to Anichebe, who did the rest.

A combination of Pickford and van Aanholt heroics kept Sunderland’s 2-0 lead intact before Anichebe finally killed off any Tigers threat.

Defoe laid the ball into Anichebe, his touch appeared heavy at first, but it opened up space and the angle for him to fire home his third goal in two games, high into the net.

Relief all round. Papy Djilobodji’s late sending off didn’t dampen spirits as Sunderland finally won at home.

When Sunderland were in the thick of the 10-game winless run, Moyes insisted a turnaround in fortunes wasn’t far away. His players are repaying that faith.

Nobody is kidding themselves about the task that lies ahead, though, especially with a daunting trip to Anfield to contend with this weekend.

Sunderland are in the thick of a relegation dogfight, which will no doubt run all season long.

But they are finally showing real signs that, once again, they may just be able to get out of trouble after all.

You wouldn’t bet against them.