Vaughan steals show from Sunderland new boy – Chris Young’s Big Match Verdict

David Vaughan

David Vaughan

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ALFRED N’DIAYE could have done little more in a six-minute cameo.

With his first touch in red and white, he spiralled a right-footed shot just beyond the far post and then, moments later, displayed that physical element Sunderland have been lacking, with a crunching touchline tackle on Guy Demel.

But while attention inevitably centred on Sunderland’s new signing and his chances of making an immediate impact for Martin O’Neill’s side, it was the almost-forgotten midfielder who stole the show and demonstrated N’Diaye faces a challenge to make his way into the starting XI.

N’Diaye’s arrival has only increased the prospects of David Vaughan leaving the Stadium of Light.

With O’Neill low on numbers, the Welsh international is unlikely to be allowed to leave this month, unless Sunderland made further midfield additions.

But the Black Cats are understood to have been prepared to let Vaughan end his 18-month stint on Wearside, with Championship high-fliers Cardiff and Crystal Palace both eager to land the former Blackpool man.

After Saturday’s showing, their prospects of signing Vaughan look non-existent.

There shouldn’t necessarily be a “told you so” aspect about Vaughan’s stunning display, even though he controlled proceedings as no other midfielder has done in a Sunderland jersey this season.

Up until last weekend’s FA Cup third round, Vaughan has not been particularly vociferous in his claims for a place in the side.

In fairness, the 29-year-old had not been given a starting chance in the Premier League.

But in his outings from the bench, his starts in the Capital One Cup and appearances for Sunderland Under-21s, Vaughan hasn’t particularly stood out.

The softly-spoken midfielder is a prime example of a player who depends on confidence though.

In the first 10 games of O’Neill’s reign, before injury struck, Vaughan was bursting with self-belief and he was a pivotal figure in that season-changing spell for the Wearsiders.

But not helped by a series of niggles, Vaughan has made minimal impact since.

A bright performance at Bolton certainly helped Vaughan’s cause though and he was a player re-born in the middle of the park on Saturday.

O’Neill could easily have left the 5ft 7in midfielder out of the side, knowing he faced a height mismatch against West Ham behemoth Alou Diarra.

But the discrepancy in inches actually worked in Sunderland’s favour.

Sunderland resisted the temptation to mimic West Ham’s direct approach. Instead, O’Neill’s side made a concerted effort to keep the ball on the deck and they made the towering visitors look awkward and lumbering

Centre-half James Collins was twice left for dead by Stephane Sessegnon in the opening half-hour before injury prematurely ended his afternoon, but it was Vaughan who proved the central cog in a display where there wasn’t a weak link.

Vaughan consistently shielded the ball from anyone attempting to rob him of possession, pivoted away from danger and then picked out a team-mate to keep Sunderland moving forward.

Crucially, too, Vaughan set the tempo for Sunderland’s attacking play.

Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and James McClean were all able to thrive because the ball arrived at their feet quickly – invariably from a Vaughan pass – while West Ham’s defensive players were still tracking back to find their positions.

That is a feature which has been lacking from Sunderland’s approach this season. Too often the creative trio have received the ball from a standing start.

Vaughan was predominantly responsible, although Seb Larsson quickly bought into the new ethic.

Buoyed by a stunning first goal of the season, Larsson drove forward effectively and persistently triumphed in the battle for 50-50 balls.

Whether Vaughan can maintain such standards is the moot point, but having that creative option in addition to N’Diaye’s muscle is no bad thing.

Neither does it do any harm for the France Under-21 international himself to learn that he cannot walk straight into Sunderland’s starting XI.

That will apply to Kader Mangane too, presuming the Senegalese centre-half completes his loan switch from the Middle East.

The sooner-than-expected return of John O’Shea was a major boost to O’Neill and other than a slightly reckless lunge to intercept Demel’s cross which resulted in Matt Jarvis drawing a routine first-half save out of Simon Mignolet, the stand-in skipper showed little evidence of his injury.

But it is a lack of suitable partners for O’Shea at centre-half which has been the worry and what has led O’Neill to targeting former Rennes defender Mangane.

Neither Matt Kilgallon nor Titus Bramble are likely to be retained by Sunderland at the end of the season and, on recent performances, had done little to boost their case for a new contract.

Kilgallon endured a torrid time at Liverpool, while Bramble was similarly fragile at Bolton.

But whether it was the boost of getting some match practice under his belt, or purely a desire to make the most of his opportunity, Bramble, like Vaughan, came into the side from the fringes and shone.

West Ham’s direct approach suited Bramble and he barely lost a header against either Carlton Cole or similarly ineffective replacement Marouane Chamakh.

But Bramble, equally proficient at Upton Park in September, was also suitably aware of the ghosting qualities of Kevin Nolan.

The ex-Newcastle United captain, who has punished Sunderland so devastatingly in the past, didn’t get an opportunity to pounce on any loose balls until the game was sealed in the final 10 minutes.

Instead, the crowd were able to delight in goading Nolan as the pantomime villain.

But supporters also revelled in a hugely impressive display from the Wearsiders, where their new signing was not needed for anything more than an encouraging late dip into Premier League waters.