SAFC Analysis: Now can Sunderland tempt safe cracker Dick Advocaat to stay on for a full season?

Sub Steven Fletcher goes close with an effort against Arsenal last night, after beating Laurent Koscielny

Sub Steven Fletcher goes close with an effort against Arsenal last night, after beating Laurent Koscielny

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For a man who has proved to be all business since arriving on Wearside, what a sight it was to see Dick Advocaat struggling to hold back the tears after the ecstasy and the relief of the final whistle.

This club has got under Advocaat’s skin.

Last night’s stalemate which capped it off simply summed up the ingredients which Advocaat has injected into Sunderland’s ranks – a well-drilled defence, an immaculate team shape and bodies thrown forwards on the counter-attack

Week by week, Advocaat has increasingly enjoyed his first taste of the Premier League, despite Sunderland’s perilous situation in the relegation dogfight.

And boy did that show after a game that was purgatory to watch, yet ultimately resulted in unbridled joy to leave Newcastle and Hull fighting it out for the remaining relegation spot.

Now the question is whether this proves to be Advocaat’s managerial swan-song, or he can persuade the other half to let him extend his tenure at Wearside?

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As reported today, Sunderland are desperate for Advocaat to remain in charge and usher in a period of stability after the chronic instability stemming from the managerial merry-go-round.

You suspect, though, that the 67-year-old may just have his arm twisted now after fulfilling his remit of keeping Sunderland in the Premier League.

Boy, has he fulfilled it.

No matter the results of their relegation rivals, no matter how perilous Sunderland’s situation has been, Advocaat has managed to drag the maximum out of these players.

They have responded too.

While there remain hefty question marks over the quality levels in this squad, there has been an outpouring of commitment and dedication over recent weeks which has resulted in nine points from the last six games.

As the players at relegation rivals Newcastle have downed tools, Sunderland’s have got the bit between their teeth.

Last night’s stalemate which capped it off simply summed up the ingredients which Advocaat has injected into Sunderland’s ranks – a well-drilled defence, an immaculate team shape and bodies thrown forwards on the counter-attack.

It’s been simple, yet very, very effective.

There wasn’t too much attacking in the opening 45 minutes last night though.

Despite Advocaat vowing that he wouldn’t park the bus, that’s exactly what Sunderland did.

It wasn’t quite 11 men behind the ball, yet it wasn’t a vast deal better than that, with the Wearsiders’ rare attempts to counter-attack frequently falling flat through poor control, predominantly Connor Wickham and Danny Graham, who were both hooked at the interval.

Sunderland were happy to plant their defensive line on the edge of the penalty area, let Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson mop up the scraps in front of them, and dare Arsenal to break them down.

However, the Gunners lacked the intensity to move the ball with real haste, and it allowed Sunderland to happily wind down the clock.

There were a few scares in the opening 45 minutes, yet nothing to really worry Costel Pantilimon’s goal.

Arsenal’s predominant threat came with a pair of clever dinked passes from Jack Wilshere in behind the Sunderland back-line within the space of a couple of minutes, yet Mesut Ozil and then Olivier Giroud could not get their half-volleys on target.

Advocaat rightly changed it at the interval to give Sunderland some sense of an attacking threat, with Jack Rodwell and Steven Fletcher introduced, with those substitutions almost paying immediate dividends.

Fletcher was picked out by a clever reverse pass from Adam Johnson within four minutes of the restart, leaving the Scot with a clear sight of goal down the right-hand side of the area.

In fairness, Fletcher couldn’t do much more than hit it first time, with David Ospina pushing it away with a reflex save to his left-hand save.

The opportunity for Patrick van Aanholt was much, much more of a clear-cut one after the left-back’s run was picked out by a piercing through ball from Jermain Defoe.

Van Aanholt was left in behind the Arsenal defence, but, from the left of goal, he placed a weak shot with his right foot that was relatively comfortably turned behind by Ospina.

Those opportunities seemed to wake Arsenal up, with the hosts finally beginning to play with a bit of purpose and Sunderland inevitably stretched as a result.

Pantilimon needed to produce an excellent reaction save to palm away Olivier Giroud’s improvised volley from Hector Bellerin’s cross, before the keeper plucked left-back Kieran Gibbs’ header out of the air from the same source moments later.

But then came two defining moments for Fletcher, which had far less mitigation for the £12million man than his first opportunity.

First, Defoe managed to send Fletcher clean through on goal when he kept the ball in on the left-hand touchline by smashing it forwards.

Fletcher had just Ospina to beat, but he hesitated and then attempted a weak chip which the Colombian parried behind.

Then, van Aanholt’s cross-shot from the left went all the way through to Fletcher at the far post, only for the Scot to divert his sliding effort over the bar, albeit replays showed he was offside.

That was when the nerves increased in earnest, Pantilimon twice forced to deny Walcott and Sunderland full-back Billy Jones agonisingly heading against his own crossbar.

But when the final whistle sounded, there was delirium.

Advocaat was a reluctant hero – equally tearful assistant Bert van Lingen had to cajole him over to the travelling away fans.

They responded though with a tongue in cheek chant of “There’s only one big Dick”.

The fans want him, the players want him and Ellis Short wants him.

The question now is does Advocaat want it?