Sunderland's rebuild plans hit by Lamine Kone's diminishing value
If you hadn't done so already, it's now safe to dust off your A to Zs to the likes of Brentford, Barnsley and Cardiff City ahead of the Championship next season.
The gap to safety didn’t widen this weekend but with another game gone, the chanSunderland’s rebuilding hopes hit by Lamine Koneces of Sunderland overturning a 10-point gap in the next seven games are slim to say the least.
Sunderland endured a bruising week on the road with defeats to Watford and Leicester City before the Sunday afternoon loss at home to Manchester United. All in the space of a week.
Under-fire manager David Moyes needed his big players to step up to the plate this week. Some did; Jordan Pickford was excellent in all three games despite shipping six goals.
Lee Cattermole has been a mammoth loss this season but he added some leadership in the middle of the park. Jermain Defoe, meanwhile, was feeding on scraps up front.
One player that has struggled these past three games – and in truth for the bulk of the season – is Lamine Kone.
Rightly applauded for his efforts last year in helping keep Sunderland up, there was inevitable interest in him from top clubs with Everton lodging a bid.
Sunderland kept hold of him but he will no doubt leave in the summer, with a major turnover in personnel on the cards.
Several out of contract players will leave on frees while Sunderland will have to cash-in on others.
Worryingly, Kone’s current value is diminishing by the week.
Against Leicester Islam Slimani outmuscled him for the opening goal with Kone again partly culpable for two of the goals against Manchester United.
On first glance, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opener looked a stunning solo strike. And it was but the defending was poor from Sunderland. Billy Jones and Kone at fault.
Moyes felt the goal was “easy” to defend had one or either of them managed to get a block or tackle in. They didn’t. And the ball ended up in the corner of the net.
With Sunderland’s miserable goal drought now at seven games, it is a case of first goal the winner for opposition teams at the moment.
A large chunk of the home support had barely sat down before Manchester United had doubled their lead.
Just 45 seconds of the second half was all it took for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to end the game as a contest. Kone, again, backed off and made it easier for the forward. Not that he needed any encouragement.
Granted he was always going to face a tough afternoon against the likes of Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan but Kone is not the commanding centre-back he was last season.
What followed from the team was flat, with Sunderland unable to build any sustained pressure on the United goal.
It would be wrong to suggest the players have given up on this season. The workrate was still there, it is just abundantly clear - as it has been for several months - that the quality is not.
Sunderland’s seven-game goal drought is the joint-second worst run in Premier League history. Crystal Palace hold the record with nine games (1994-95), with Derby (2007-08) and Ipswich (1994-95) also going seven games without scoring.
A goal drought at one end and conceding soft goals on a regular basis at the other is a recipe for disaster.
Defoe has been starved of quality balls into him in good areas, while the other Sunderland forwards are devoid of confidence or match sharpness in Victor Anichebe’s case.
With the team misfiring at one end, it means mistakes at the back are going to be highlighted even more as has been the case this week.
Having a host of different central defensive partners hasn’t helped but Kone has failed to reach the heights of last season.
His decline has matched that of Sunderland’s.