Chris Young: Pressure on Didier Ndong to help provide Sunderland with attacking threat

Jan Kirchhoff is unlikely to provide a goal threat, so Sunderland need strikepower from elsewhere in midfield
Jan Kirchhoff is unlikely to provide a goal threat, so Sunderland need strikepower from elsewhere in midfield
Have your say

A mountain lion seems to be a more common kind of moggy in California than the garden tabby... and it’s best not to kick that kind of cat.

After years following Sunderland in the flesh, you almost forget that it’s equally frustrating to watch their laboured efforts on the box.

If there had been a feline around on Sunday, it would have felt the full Papy Djilobodji treatment.

Without wishing to copy and paste last week’s column, Djilobodji evidently needs taking out of the firing line after yet another concentration lapse gifted maximum points to a Spurs side who never really needed to extend themselves.

But at least, in Jason Denayer and John O’Shea, manager David Moyes has alternative options to Djilobodji.

In Lamine Kone, Javier Manquillo and when switched on (and available…) Patrick van Aanholt, Moyes has some decent components at the back, particularly when they complement Jordan Pickford.

With Jan Kirchhoff and Lee Cattermole patrolling in front of the defence, Sunderland do have the building blocks to tighten up.

It’s less certain that they possess those construction materials at the opposite end of the field.

Yes, Steven Pienaar spurned a sitter at White Hart Lane, but at present it’s simply a test of patience for opposition sides against Sunderland.

As long as they contain Jermain Defoe, then a Djilobodji clanger will eventually arrive and once Pickford’s net ripples, there is no way back.

The ease with which injury-hit Spurs coasted through the final half-hour on Sunday was utterly jaw-dropping.

Sunderland MUST start asking some attacking questions if they are to stand a prayer of turning around this familiar malaise, because, apart from Defoe and Adnan Januzaj, there’s so little for defenders to worry about.

Two meaningful efforts on goal in 90 minutes, regardless of the opposition, is just not sufficient.

The calls for Wahbi Khazri’s inclusion are understandable, although he’s hardly covered himself in glory when he’s emerged from the bench over recent games.

But the biggest onus is on Didier Ndong to alter Sunderland’s approach.

That’s putting a huge responsibility on the shoulders of a player whose Premier League experience totals 100 minutes and is still acclimatising to the linguistic, cultural and footballing differences from his move across the Channel.

Yet it’s what stems from becoming Sunderland’s record signing.

At an initial outlay of £13.6million, Ndong has to instantly justify that investment and become more of a goal threat than he produced at former club Lorient, where he netted just twice in two years.

There were a handful of signs at Spurs that he has the capabilities to do that, particularly the slide-rule pass for Duncan Watmore which the substitute wasted.

But Ndong has little choice than to mature into a powerful box-to-box player if Sunderland are to revive their fortunes, because there aren’t going to be any dramatic scoring feats from Kirchhoff or Cattermole.

Kirchhoff has never scored a top-flight goal in either Germany or England, while Cattermole has managed just two since arriving at the Stadium of Light in 2009.

If that central midfield trio persists, then Ndong is going to have to be the one to get in or around Defoe and bridge the gap with the forward line. At times on Sunday, there was a chasm between the 33-year-old and the rest.

There were similar concerns last season, of course, when Yann M’Vila joined Kirchhoff and Cattermole in the middle of the park, yet they were overcome because Sunderland stopped conceding daft goals, and both Khazri and Fabio Borini were able to contribute at the other end.

Moyes cannot fall back upon a unit with such harmony though. At present, Sunderland resemble the archetypal team of individuals thrown together. The partnerships and understandings from the final four months of last season have disappeared again.

Building new ones will require several more games, but there is no leeway on time while Sunderland remain winless and in the midst of a familiar state of flux.

Moyes has to scrape a victory from somewhere and unleash the shackles to move his whole team forward 10 yards, both tonight and, more crucially, against Crystal Palace this weekend.

If Sunderland can strike a balance and get off the mark on Saturday, then they will at least have taken the first step to reaching the winter without having to call upon one of their nine lives.