Cats Eye View: Defence shows improvement after only brief encounter with Sam Allardyce

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce at The Hawthorns. Picture by Frank Reid
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce at The Hawthorns. Picture by Frank Reid
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When Sam Allardyce strode into his first press conference as Sunderland boss, his number one priority was clear.

To shore up a Black Cats defence that was beyond leaky, with 18 goals conceded in just eight top-flight games.

If Sunderland were to stand any chance of getting out of trouble this season then that would simply not do for Allardyce.

He has built his reputation and standing in the game on a solid base, building from the back, something the Black Cats would really benefit from.

Even the most optimistic of Sunderland fans wouldn’t have been expecting miracles ahead of the visit to The Hawthorns, given the new boss had only spent two days training with his full squad.

Yet there were clear signs of Allardyce’s early influence on the players.

Setting the controversial winning goal to one side, there were some positives from the trip to the Midlands to suggest that elusive first win isn’t too far away.

In the opening 45 minutes especially, the back four of DeAndre Yedlin, John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul and Billy Jones looked far more organised, compact and resolute.

- Spurs loanee Yedlin got forward at will without neglecting his defensive duties.

- O’Shea was vocal and organised throughout, while Kaboul – in for the suspended Sebastian Coates – won his headers but needs to improve his distribution.

- Jones again did well in the left-back role, while Lee Cattermole and Jordi Gomez worked their socks off and Steven Fletcher showed good link-up play.

Sunderland, who should have scored through Jones’s header expertly tipped over by Boaz Myhill, controlled the first half.

A poor West Brom side, out of form themselves, posed little threat truth be told, hence the boos from their home fans at half-time.

But on the occasions they did break forward with purpose, Sunderland’s rear guard held firm and nullified the threat, restricting them to long-range pot shots.

Stephane Sessegnon was their biggest attacking threat but Jones stood up to the challenge.

At half-time with loud boos ringing around The Hawthorns, Allardyce would have been delighted.

His new side looked to be heading for a deserved point at least, with the Baggies managing just one shot on target all game – which turned out to be the winning goal, sadly.

That 54th minute tap-in from Saido Berahino succumbed the Black Cats to their sixth defeat in nine Premier League outings.

Yes Costel Pantilimon was fouled, more than once, before Berahino scored. And yes Martin Atkinson should have awarded a free-kick.

But Pantilimon should have been stronger too, and shown more aggression in coming and claiming the ball.

In the end, the goal stood and Sunderland had no response, despite Allardyce making swift, attacking changes from the bench.

Allardyce threw caution to the win, throwing on Adam Johnson and Jermain Defoe as they basically reverted to a 4-2-4 formation in search of an equaliser.

Danny Graham later came on for the knackered Fletcher but a real opening to equalise never materialised.

Allardyce blamed referee Atkinson for the defeat in his post-match press conference.

While Atkinson was to blame for allowing Berahino’s goal to stand, Sunderland’s inability to carve out any real chances in the second half cost them dear.

The goal knocked them back as West Brom got a foothold in the game.

Jeremain Lens’ pace and creativity were missed and he will be back for the Wear-Tyne derby clash this weekend.

A big plus for Allarydce, who will be looking for further improvement when Steve McClaren’s side arrive in town.

Another defeat yes, but defensive improvements and signs of progress for Allardyce to take away ahead of a full week on the training ground.

That first win can’t come quickly enough.