David Jones: Sunderland boss Allardyce's vast experience paid off with mauling of Norwich

We should never have doubted the lads for a minute.

Wednesday, 20th April 2016, 3:00 pm
Livewire Duncan Watmore beats John Ruddy to score Sunderland's third goal in last week's vital win at Norwich. Picture by Frank Reid

Experience should have told us that when it comes to the crunch, when we really get down to the nitty gritty of who can handle these tense relegation battles, we would be alright.

And it’s experience that saw us through in the biggest of six-pointers at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Because, make no mistake, had Sunderland lost to Norwich at the weekend it would have been all over bar the shouting: seven points to claw back with five games left to do it in would have been insurmountable.

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We knew it, the players knew it and the manager certainly knew it.

But all his experience came to the fore in the build-up to the match.

After going six games since the win over Manchester United, many less battle scarred managers might have panicked and torn up the blueprint.

Sam Allardyce admitted after the win that he had considered tinkering with a formation which had brought consistently good performances without the reward of the victories we needed to pull away from danger.

Experience told him though that now was not the time to tinker, stick to Plan A and hope this time fortune would favour the brave.

But the know-how came from the players too.

Lee Cattermole has played in more than his fair share of relegation battles, but here was the skipper driving the team on, scrapping in his own goalmouth, then marauding up the field to support the front players.

He seems to thrive in the heat of these circumstances, sticks his chest out, rolls up his sleeves and inspires his team-mates and we love him for it.

It must be a huge help to Yann M’Vila and Jan Kirchhoff knowing this North East warrior is on their side.

But Cattermole has been here before, as has Jermain Defoe, who just lives to score goals.

Defoe doesn’t strike me as the type to get worried about the consequences of a missed chance, he will just do everything he can to make sure he scores the next one.

He will be revelling in the responsibility of being Sam’s main man, the player pundits talk about as being the difference for Sunderland.

And there’s no doubting the amount of work he gets through in 90 minutes; battling two centre-halves on his own as has been the tactic of late.

There was nothing sophisticated about the Allardyce plan, now is not the time for that, defend your box and if there’s no room to play hit it long and try to get the ball behind the opposition defence for your runners.

It’s what Leicester have been doing all season and clearly it’s more effective when you have Jamie Vardy doing your chasing, but right now it’s working for Sunderland too.

The return of Duncan Watmore is vital to this plan working as well.

Like Vardy, the young man they call the ‘Roadrunner’ has those ingredients defenders just hate to come across: raw pace, aggression and a willingness to run all day.

His game time might have to be managed after his injury, but he certainly offers Allardyce a viable alternative to Wahbi Khazri, whose performance level seems to have dipped in recent matches.

It’s intriguing to see how Sunderland’s tactics will work against Arsenal on Sunday.

We might be able to garner some clues by watching Arsenal’s match with West Brom at the Emirates tomorrow, a game that I will be hosting for Sky Sports; expect the Baggies to sit deep and try and break on Arsenal when they can.

Minds will drift back to last season at the Emirates when Sunderland scrapped for a point which preserved our Premier League status for another season.

Every point now is precious and though Allardyce has targeted 38 for safety, I’m not sure it will take as many as that.

But it would be a massive confidence boost to escape the bottom three before Norwich play again, as fate would have it, also against Arsenal a week on Saturday.