Chris Young’s Analysis - Character and grit secures vital win for Sunderland

Steven Fletcher notches his second goal.
Steven Fletcher notches his second goal.
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WAS IT pretty? No.

Was it altogether convincing? No.

Does it indicate that all of Sunderland’s problems are behind them? No.

Was it a crucial victory? Without a shadow of a doubt.

Silencing the hostile Selhurst Park crowd with a maiden away victory of the campaign may turn out to be one of THE pivotal moments of Sunderland’s season.

Had the rot from the Southampton mauling been allowed to fester any longer, with Sunderland continuing to linger in the relegation zone, things could have begun to look increasingly bleak for Gus Poyet and his side.

Scarred by the experiences of last season, the manner of those back-to-back defeats has sparked inevitable jitters among supporters, still questioning whether the summer recruitment drive has been sufficient in quantity and quality.

In terms of the latter trait, there was little on show from the visitors at Selhurst Park.

Other than a display of finishing which reinforced the belief that Steven Fletcher is back to his best and is crucial towards Sunderland’s fortunes this season, the visitors struggled to mount any attacking fluency.

But when it came to character, they had it in spades, as they emphatically ended a Monday hoodoo which stretched back to 2002.

That’s what Sunderland needed to show in such hostile surroundings. It’s what was desperately needed in response to the Southampton result, which had overshadowed everything else prior to the club’s return to the road.

Backed by a predictably boisterous home crowd, Palace persistently put Sunderland on the back foot and tried to make the most of their pace.

Neil Warnock’s tactics were real back to basics stuff.

They launched it forward, regularly switched the play and got early crosses into the area, all with the aim of making the most of the quick legs of their front three of Fraizer Campbell, Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie.

But however long Sunderland spent pegged back in their own territory and however much Selhurst Park yearned for blood, the Black Cats’ defences held firm.

Other than the equaliser, Costel Pantilimon had no meaningful efforts to deal with.

What the Romanian did do was dominate his box.

Poyet had to put Vito Mannone out of his misery by dropping the confidence-drained Italian, and Pantilimon didn’t disappoint.

Neither did fellow debutant Anthony Reveillere, who was superb at full-back and will be needed even more pressingly now that Patrick van Aanholt faces a sustained period on the sidelines.

While Reveillere boasts a wealth of experience, has been to two major championships with France and played more than 300 games in his homeland, he hasn’t kicked a ball since May.

That’s a huge lay-off to bridge in the Premier League, particularly when it comes to tackling speedsters such as Zaha and Bolasie.

But Reveillere didn’t disappoint. He was solid, efficient, intelligent and proved equally capable at both right-back and left-back.

Rather than wilting in the heat of the cauldron, Sunderland’s defence stood strong, with John O’Shea deserving a notable mention too.

However, they received a huge chunk of fortune from referee Phil Dowd.

There was nothing debatable about the spot-kick inside the opening 25 seconds. It was blatant.

While the one later in the half, which saw van Aanholt dislocate his shoulder was 50-50, Santiago Vergini got nowhere near the ball as he challenged Campbell.

However, maybe that old adage about swings and roundabouts holds some truth.

Sunderland were equally denied a stonewaller at Southampton and look how they suffered after that.

It didn’t exactly settle the nerves in Sunderland’s ranks though and Palace looked to make the most of those jitters.

It raised the volume of the crowd, but crucially, didn’t raise the eyebrows of Pantilimon who was largely limited to collecting routine crosses.

Sunderland’s problem was they couldn’t string more than two or three passes together.

Poyet’s side were limited to getting rid and getting it upfield, rather than showing any hint of the possession-based football which their head coach strives for.

But Fletcher’s third of the season had recuperative powers.

After van Aanholt took advantage of Brede Hangeland’s lazy attempts at an offside trap, Fletcher showed precision with a header which was startingly reminiscent of his goal at Selhurst Park last season.

Suddenly – despite another penalty shout and van Aanholt’s injury – there was a splash of self-belief surrounding the Black Cats. It was the first time that had been evident since Southampton.

Fletcher produced a sumptuously slick turn down the left-hand side of the area before firing a shot straight at Julian Speroni.

And then in first half stoppage time, Vergini almost scored at the right end after meeting Will Buckley’s pull-back with a first-time half-volley that was pushed away smartly by Speroni.

Predictably Palace came out the traps strongly after the break, but they needed a splash of fortune to draw proceedings level.

Wes Brown was culpable in losing Marouane Chamakh, but then he was out-of-luck as he sent Campbell’s back-heel beyond Pantilimon at his near post.

A fourth own goal in the space of 16 days is a grim statistic.

That should have seen the hosts throw the kitchen sink at Sunderland in a bid to claw their noses in front.

But again, there was precious little in terms of an end result.

At the other end, Vergini tested Speroni’s reflexes with another half-volley before Sunderland regained the lead - again taking advantage of the snoozing Palace back-line.

Buckley was given time to roll the ball across the edge of the area and Jordi Gomez picked his spot beautifully; stroking a shot into the bottom corner.

Instead of battling back, Palace lost their discipline - skipper Mile Jedinak dismissed for a second yellow card.

Victory was then secured in the fifth minute of stoppage time when substitute Liam Bridcutt robbed Jason Puncheon and fed Fletcher down the right-hand side of the area, who produced another finish of pinpoint precision.

That settled any nerves about Sunderland producing another moment of self destruction to prevent a first away victory of the campaign.

The subsequent three points have given Sunderland some relief from the Premier League’s crisis spotlight.

This was the first step to redemption from the St Mary’s mauling.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Kelly, Hangeland (Gayle 74), Dann, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley, Zaha, Bolasie, Chamakh (Puncheon 76), Campbell. Subs not used: Hennessey, Mariappa, Bannan, McArthur, Doyle. Booked: Jedinak (65). Sent off: Jedinak (87)

SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Reveillere, O’Shea, Vergini, van Aanholt (Brown 37), Cattermole, Larsson, Gomez, Buckley (Bridcutt 82), Wickham (Altidore 78), Fletcher. Subs not used: Johnson, Mavrias, Graham, Mannone. Booked: Buckley (63), Pantilimon (71), Cattermole (74)

Attendance: 23,212