David Jones: Sunderland can beat West Brom, Norwich AND Leicester

It's a sign of how far Sunderland have come under Sam Allardyce that we were so disappointed to leave St James's Park with just a point on Sunday.

Wednesday, 23rd March 2016, 3:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd March 2016, 5:12 pm
Fabio Borini gave Jack Colback a torrid time in the derby

To play as well as we did in the circumstances - a cauldron of hate and the galvanising factor of a new manager - was beyond my expectation; the way we allowed them back in the game was more predictable.

But let’s not be too downbeat: that was a better point for Sunderland than it was for Newcastle.

They were gambling on the appointment of Rafa Benitez having the same impact on the derby as Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat had with Sunderland.

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Now they face a titanic game at Norwich while we have another cup final at the Stadium of Light against West Brom.

I actually think Sunderland can win all of the next three games against The Baggies, title-chasing Leicester and then our own trip to Carrow Road.

That might sound daft but the confidence we would gain from seeing off Albion might just kick us on to do something special against Leicester too.

Claudio Ranieri’s side are definitely tightening up.

All of their last four wins have come by a 1-0 scoreline and while Riyad Mahrez is proving the difference in close games Jamie Vardy hasn’t scored from open play for seven games now: his longest drought of the season.

We know what to expect from West Brom who look like they can start planning for next season already with or without Tony Pulis at the helm: they are a limited attacking force who’s focus is on defence

It might require a tactical tweak from Allarydce and I wonder if we can be even bolder when we have to be.

With Jeremain Lens working his way back to fitness I’d be tempted to squeeze him into the team on either flank, moving Whabi Khazri to a more central position in front of Yann M’Vila and Jan Kirchhoff.

Jack Rodwell would be the one to drop out; he’s done pretty well in recent games and we’ve seen him quite often receive the ball in some dangerous positions but he just lacks that creative spark to be truly effective in the final third.

I wouldn’t be afraid to push Fabio Borini through the middle either to give West Brom’s giant defenders something else to think about.

He looks like he’s up for the fight since bursting into the game against Crystal Palace with that wonder goal and I thought his game management on Sunday was top drawer.

Borini had Jack Colback tied up in knots: he didn’t know whether to kick him or punch him by the time he got substituted by Benitez to save him being sent off.

The Italian must be a nightmare to play against with his antics but he could be an important weapon as we look for goals in the run-in: for all the pundits talk of Jermain Defoe being the difference for Sunderland it’s worth remembering he’s scored twice in nine games since his hat-trick at Swansea.

Those who watch Sunderland every week will tell you the difference are the leaders through the team, big men with big personalities who are raising standards on and off the pitch.

We saw it again on Sunday watching another towering performance from Lamine Kone and indeed Younes Kaboul alongside him; from Kirchhoff in midfield who for an hour was magnificent before he faded and from M’Vila whose consistency has shone like a beacon this season.

These are players who should not be involved in a relegation scrap and if we can get out of it this time I don’t expect us to be down there again.

My insiders around the Sunderland training ground tell me this is the most cohesive and professional squad they can remember seeing for years.

I’m convinced if we can get the points we need in these final eight game then this can be the start of a new positive era for our club; just mind your fingernails in the meantime.