Cats Eye View: Wahbi Khazri pulls the strings as Sunderland prove they are up for scrap

Wahbi Khazri pulls the strings for Sunderland
Wahbi Khazri pulls the strings for Sunderland
Have your say

The sheer relief etched on the face of Sam Allardyce at the end of the match told its own story.

Job done as he double fist-pumped the air.

The Sunderland boss had out-thought his counterpart off the pitch while his side had out-fought Manchester United on it.

Richard Mennear

The Sunderland boss had out-thought his counterpart off the pitch, while his side had out-fought Manchester United on it.

This was a deserving and satisfying victory as the pressure gauge cranked up further on under-fire United chief Louis van Gaal.

The real pressure, though, is on those sides battling to stay in the Premier League, with next season’s bumper £5billion television deal dangling in front of their eyes like a gold-plated carrot.

But the Black Cats are proving they have the mental resolve and new-found resilience to cope with the pressure.

Sunderland are no strangers to battling the drop and several close scrapes in recent seasons will stand them in good stead again.

That experience could prove vital. Question marks over how to stop that seemingly never-ending cycle are for the summer.

For the next three months, it is all about survival.

And they could have no better man at the helm to help them achieve just that.

With several key players missing – including the injured Jeremain Lens and Duncan Watmore – Allardyce’s options were limited. The team virtually picked itself, with Dame N’Doye starting ahead of Fabio Borini, wide on the right, perhaps the only surprise.

But Big Sam got his tactics spot on, with first Jan Kirchhoff until his early departure – and then Yann M’Vila – marshalling the space in front of the back four.

The imposing duo of John O’Shea and Lamine Kone marked Wayne Rooney out of the game, he barely posed a threat all afternoon.

And when he dropped deeper, M’Vila was there to snuff out the danger.

Anthony Martial was United’s dangerman, but, on the other flank, Jesse Lingard had a quiet afternoon, with Patrick van Aanholt keeping tabs on the young wideman.

Juan Mata was pulling the United strings as they fought their way back into the game.

But Sunderland dominated after the break, Lee Cattermole, M’Vila and Jack Rodwell winning the midfield battle as Mata’s influence waned.

Allardyce had got his tactics spot on and his message to target young full-backs Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Donald Love worked, with N’Doye enjoying a far more influential second half.

It is the players though who deserve the most credit; showing an enormous amount of determination, aggression, fight, and desire – the basics.

Too often technical ability isn’t enough.

You need the other ingredients and Sunderland’s willingness to chase every ball and harry the United players paid off.

Having a player with the quality that Khazri possesses helps – the £9million January capture has been involved in four goals in two starts.

He has pace, power, superb technical skill and is willing to track back, while his delivery from set plays is a key weapon.

Victory was nothing more than the Black Cats deserved, especially after peppering David De Gea’s goal with a total of 21 shots – the most attempts in any of their league games this campaign.

While O’Shea and Kone built the foundations for the victory with their defensive efforts, it was Khazri who proved the difference.

It was a monumental victory and a much-needed one after a really tough week for the club off the pitch.

Allardyce said the players proved the squad is good enough to stay up, they have shown they are capable of proving Dick Advocaat wrong.

Now they need to maintain their new-found momentum.

On current form, you wouldn’t bet against them.