There has been plenty of finger-pointing at Sunderland’s back four over the last two months, and understandably so.
None of Sunderland’s defenders have covered themselves in glory. There have been individual clangers from all and a collective vulnerability which has seen an average of more than two goals shipped per game.
If you look at every team in the Premier League now, it’s a must that you defend from the front first and foremostBilly Jones
If West Ham manage to find Costel Pantilimon’s net just once tomorrow, it will (depressingly) represent progress for a side who so dearly need the confidence boost stemming from a clean sheet.
But while Dick Advocaat took the unusual step of naming names for the mistakes made in last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at Manchester United, the Sunderland boss has avoided laying the blame for the club’s troubles squarely at the feet of his back four.
It might be a cliché, but Advocaat has stressed the importance of defending from the front; working as a collective unit to thwart the opposition’s attacks.
That has not necessarily been one of Sunderland’s strengths this season.
Big money summer signing Jeremain Lens, in particular, has faced a culture shock over the defensive responsibilities which come in the Premier League.
But right-back Billy Jones insists that if Sunderland are going to provide more resistance to opposition sides, then it has to stem from an improvement as a team.
“If you look at every team in the Premier League now, it’s a must that you defend from the front first and foremost,” said the ex-West Brom man.
“Whether it’s staying with runners or being in the right positions to make it hard for teams, you’ve got to do it.
“That’s the same if you’re playing for Chelsea or playing for Sunderland.
“All the lads know that. Sometimes I feel for the wingers because sometimes it’s a hard shift when you’re a wide attacking player and your main strength is going forwards.
“But if you don’t defend well from the front in the Premier League, you’ll concede goals and you’ll suffer.
“As a collective we haven’t done that well enough.
“And with the mistakes as well, we’ve concede a lot of goals because of that.”
Sunderland are yet to keep a clean sheet this season, and manager Advocaat admits he may try and change their formation in to make them more solid.
Jones insists that any plaudits that come the way of the back four must be shared with the rest of the team, as it will be their input that helps keep clean sheets.
The 28-year-old added: “You have to look at it from a group perspective.
“When you keep a clean sheet, you give yourself a pat on the back as a defender and think it’s more to do with you than the guys in front of you.
“But it is very much a team effort to get a clean sheet; a team effort to create the chance to get that goal.”