Sunderland must switch brains on and five other things we learned from 1-0 win over Watford

Sunderland are off the bottom ... again. Can they now push on from the 1-0 win over Watford?

Sunday, 18th December 2016, 4:10 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 1:58 pm
Happy Christmas: Sunderland celebrate Patrick van Aanholt's winner. Picture by FRANK REID

It may be a big ask given the three matches to end 2016 and commence 2017 are Manchester United (a), Burnley (a) and Liverpool (h).

But the importance of Patrick van Aanholt’s 49th-minute winner from one of their best moves of the match can’t be overstated.

David Moyes’s team also kept only their second clean sheet, another cause for celebration. Here are six things we learned from the hard-earned success.

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Winning has become a good habit:

Yes, Sunderland lost the previous weekend and on Wednesday, but don’t let it ruin this reporter’s point.

The Black Cats have found a way to win, even if, like Saturday, it was hardly convincing.

That is now four wins from the seven games which have followed the 4-1 late collapse to Arsenal or, to put it another way, three victories from four home fixtures.

Not that long ago, the side may have crumpled under the Watford pressure but, as Moyes remarked afterwards, they showed “steel”.

Don’t give away set-pieces:

Sometimes you can’t help it, but when you are under the cosh, conceding set-pieces is asking for trouble.

Watford had 11 corners at the Stadium of Light, which tested the home defence and keeper Jordan Pickford to the maximum.

They passed the test, thankfully. However, some of the issues were self-inflicted.

For example, Jason Denayer wrestled Odion Ighalo to the deck near the by-line. From Jose Holebas’s free-kick, Miguel Britos failed with a header when it looked easier to score.

It was one of three free-kicks conceded in quick succession – the Black Cats need to be smarter.

Switch on your brains:

Nordin Amrabat had a very good go at putting Watford into a second-minute lead when his great volley from the edge of the box from Etienne Capoue’s corner was superbly saved by Pickford.

So what did the Cats do at the resulting corner? Yes, leave him unmarked. He was left along, again, on the hour and this time he fired over.

Serious words should be said.

Use your subs:

It’s hard to be critical of Moyes, who has made more right calls than wrong ones, selection and formation-wise.

But when Sunderland were beginning to blow hard in the second half, it looked time to freshen up the side with a sub or two, or three.

Instead, 10 minutes of normal time remained when that wise old man, John O’Shea, was sent on, with Seb Larsson replacing the injured Donald Love and Wahbi Khazri taking over from the shattered Fabio Borini in injury time purely to eat up a few seconds.

It would have been nice to have seen Khazri earlier, especially if he is expected to deputise for Januzaj at Old Trafford on Boxing Day.

More scorers please:

Believe it or not, Sunderland have got within a point of the safety line having had only three different scorers all season – Jermain Defoe, Victor Anichebe and Patrick van Aanholt.

By way of comparison, opponents Watford have 11 separate scorers.

It would help if the Black Cats could muster a goal from a set-piece, an old chestnut from this SAFC correspondent.

Lamine Kone got near one corner, that is near the ball not near the goal. It would be nice to be able to report on success from a set-piece or a midfielder bursting into the box and smashing the ball home.

This page has mentioned previously and does so again now, the club will not stay up on the back of three men finding the net.

A happy Christmas:

Sunderland have avoided the dreaded bottom spot ahead of the arrival of Santa.

Much is made by us clowns in the media circus how the club bottom at Christmas always goes down.

Psychologically, that win on Saturday cannot be overplayed. Sunderland now have 14 points and are one point away from Crystal Palace in 17th.

Twelve months ago, Sunderland were 19th on 12 points, five points shy of safety. They finished 17th on 39 points.

If they can gather 27 points post-Christmas like Big Sam’s team did, surely they will stay up.