Set pieces are key to Sunderland's survival hopes after Manchester United double
Sunderland must ensure that their set-piece arsenal is a lethal weapon during the last quarter of the season, believes skipper John O'Shea.
The Black Cats twice found the net from dead-ball situations in Saturday’s 2-1 success over Manchester United after January signings Wahbi Khazi and Lamine Kone both found the net, albeit the latter’s header has initially been credited as an own goal by keeper David De Gea.
Attacking midfielder Khazri was renowned as a set-piece specialist during his time at former club Bordeaux, and he demonstrated that with a free-kick for his first Sunderland goal and then delivered a pinpoint corner for Kone to head home.
And with fellow new boys Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Dame N’Doye all offering a physical presence in the penalty area, O’Shea says Sunderland have an attacking asset at their disposal in the battle to remain in the Premier League.
O’Shea said: “Kone’s a massive presence and that’s the quality we had to improve on, in terms of scoring from set pieces.
“With Wahbi Khazri’s delivery as well, it’s going to be a big asset for us.
“It was not only them. I thought N’Doye was a real handful too.
“We saw Khazri’s ability from set pieces when he joined the club.
“On certain days in training, we work on set pieces and we saw straight away on a cold and windy day at the Academy of Light, what kind of quality he can bring.
“We needed to improve the amount of goals we’d scored from set pieces.”
While Kone and Khazri took the headlines, O’Shea, himself, was pivotal towards victory over his former club.
The 34-year-old took the man of the match prize afterwards for a towering defensive display, as Sunderland deservedly registered what could be a hugely significant result in the battle for survival.
Sunderland remain second-bottom, yet have narrowed the gap on those sides above them and have some renewed self belief after a four-point haul from a tough run of games against both Manchester clubs and Liverpool.
O’Shea said: “It’s just a big three points. Whoever we were playing, we needed to produce that Man City performance.
“With better finishing, it could have been more comfortable too.
“The noise around the stadium was brilliant, especially in the last few minutes.
“It really had an impact on the team.
“That’s what I’ve said to the lads all along. If we’re producing the performances on the pitch, then we’ll get amazing backing from the fans.
“The games keep ticking away. Ultimately, if we hadn’t won on Saturday, there still would have been games available.
“But it’s a big three points.
“We’re still in the relegation zone, but it gets us a lot closer.”