Sunderland still open to formation change

Stephen Fletcher in action for Sunderland against Leeds United in the 3rd Rnd of the FA CUP

Stephen Fletcher in action for Sunderland against Leeds United in the 3rd Rnd of the FA CUP

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SUNDERLAND are still keeping an open mind over the best method of fielding a strike partnership.

Black Cats head coach Gus Poyet is determined to accommodate new signing Jermain Defoe in a front two and make the most of the England international’s goalscoring prowess after the 32-year-old completed his move from MLS outfit Toronto FC last week.

But despite opting for a 3-5-2 formation in last Saturday’s Premier League defeat at Spurs, Sunderland have still been experimenting on the training ground this week with various formations.

There could be a further change for tomorrow’s FA Cup fourth round clash against Fulham (3pm kick-off), where Defoe will make his Stadium of Light debut in a Sunderland shirt.

First-team coach Charlie Oatway told the Echo: “We have looked at a few systems during training this week – both the four and the three, with wing-backs and full-backs.

“We’ve looked at everything. Gus is open-minded and flexible depending on how we’re playing and whose fit.

“We’ll see tomorrow.

“Jermain needs help up there. He’s one of those players who likes to play off someone.

“He needs someone closer than two wingers.

“But these are Premier League players.

“They should be able to adapt to it a bit easier than in the Championship or Leagues One and Two.

“We’re looking for them to adapt to it pretty quickly, otherwise they won’t be playing. It’s quite simple.”

The visit of Championship outfit Fulham provides an ideal opportunity for Poyet to continue experimenting with a new system, ahead of a crunch run of fixtures in the battle to avoid the drop.

Sunderland host fellow strugglers Burnley, QPR and West Brom in three of the four Premier League games following tomorrow’s encounter.

And Oatway admits that there is inevitably half an eye on the games to come, even though he hopes cup progression can provide a foundation for an upturn in form for Sunderland, who lie just a point above the relegation zone.

“This is a chance to make it concrete, ahead of these run of games coming up where we’d like to think we can go and win,” he added.

“With the games coming up, we need to make sure we get some sort of stable side to go into those games.

“This is a great chance to get a good result, and get the ball rolling.

“You can only look one game ahead, but it is in the corner of your eye to look at the ones coming up.

“There’s a run where we fancy our chances, and so we should.

“But first and foremost, we’ve got to get it right on the pitch and get the result we want against Fulham.”