We’ve shipped goals all season and only kept two clean sheets. So when Spurs, one of the best attacking sides in the league, rolled into town, most of us were confident in predicting a difficult evening.
In typical Sunderland fashion though, we turned in our best defensive performance of the campaign.
Aided hugely by Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong, both returning from the African Cup Of Nations, The Lads kept things tight, never let their concentration levels drop and matched Tottenham’s sky-high energy levels.
In the defence, Kone was a colossus and looked more like the player of last season. The Ivorian never let Harry Kane beat him in the air and was crucial in not letting the visitors find a way through, with their intricate passing.
Similarly, Ndong never stopped pressing the opposition and won more tackles than anyone else on the field. Granted, none of Ndong’s tackles were as impressive as Jack Rodwell’s beautiful challenge on Mousa Dembele, but he was tidy in possession and never needlessly gave away possession.
It’s obvious that Sunderland look a far better team with both Kone and Ndong back in the side and David Moyes will know that his team need to take this level of performance to Crystal Palace. A defeat would be a disaster, especially after a midweek round where Palace and Swansea picked up wins, while Hull earned a surprise draw at Manchester United. With time running out, you could even suggest a draw wouldn’t be enough and that Sunderland have to turn their “we’d take a point here” games, into ones where they claim all three.
Making minimal changes to Tuesday nights team would be a good start. The extra centre half and three in midfield should be able to give the full-backs sufficient support to Palace’s wide threat, a threat posed by a familiar face.
Tracking Patrick van Aanholt’s runs from deep should be something Sunderland know they need to make a priority and you’d hope that Ndong would be comfortable performing such duties. Either way, let’s hope we see the Van Aanholt of early last season, rather than the one who ended that campaign.
Going forward will be tricky for The Lads though. The lack of a target man really showed against Tottenham, as Jermain Defoe fed off scraps. Since a new striker didn’t arrive in the January window, the manager will have to look at new ways of getting his team moving forward. A reinforced midfield could be the answer, with Darron Gibson arriving and Lynden Gooch returning from injury. Both can pick a pass and support our attacks.
There’s always the option of handing another start to George Honeyman too and playing him in his familiar position just behind the striker, at the expense of Fabio Borini. It will give Sunderland a link between midfield and attack, while not having to sacrifice anything defensively.
Now that the transfer window has closed, SAFC will have to make do with what they’ve got, starting against Palace. If they can pick up a win, maybe what they have will be enough.