Chris Young: Why Sunderland need the old Fabio Borini back

Fabio Borini
Fabio Borini
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The thrust of Sam Allardyce’s half-time team talk, after a sorry and soggy opening 45 minutes against Watford, was that Sunderland only trailed by a solitary goal.

Sunderland’s pipe and slippers defending hadn’t been punished as ruthlessly as it could feasibly have been, and the Black Cats still had an opportunity to at least get a share of the spoils.

Borini in happier times

Borini in happier times

But rather than emerge from the tunnel full of gusto, Fabio Borini trudged sluggishly onto the pitch behind the rest of his team-mates, with his head bowed.

His body language was equally dispirited when he was removed from the action 10 minutes or so later.

In fairness to Borini, he had been on the receiving end of a couple of hefty challenges which went unpunished by the referee and left the Italian requiring several minutes to shake off the after effects.

Seeing a shot, which had developed from his own industry, whistle an inch or so wide of the far post can’t have improved his mood either.

But for a player whose loan spell on Wearside two seasons ago had been characterised by an unwavering will-to-win and desire to prove himself, seeing him with shoulders slumped and eyes staring at his feet didn’t convey a great message.

There is perhaps a blue-tinted view of Borini’s previous at Sunderland, when only seven of his goals came in the Premier League – three of which were penalties.

It was the games Borini scored in; both derbies, League Cup semi and final, which arguably made him such a favourite.

However, in a season which ultimately proved to be as memorable as any in Sunderland’s recent history, Borini was a shining light; a loanee who bought into the hunger, passion and determination on the terraces, which eventually transmitted to the field.

Can the same be said about his second spell at the club so far?

There are several mitigating factors for the 24-year-old.

A season with minimal competitive football at Liverpool put the shackles on his career just as it was beginning to take off.

Being subsequently banished to train with outcasts Mario Balotelli and Jose Enrique during pre-season had a knock-on effect on the start of his Sunderland regeneration after arriving on Stadium of Light as one of several summer signings lacking match sharpness.

Couple that with the ankle injury which troubled him for several weeks last month, and Borini has faced an uphill battle to get up to speed.

Even joining Sunderland in the first place must have taken some adjusting to, after Borini was on the verge of returning to his homeland with Inter Milan, while Dick Advocaat wanted other striking targets. It was the contingency option for both parties.

Perhaps it’s that elusive first goal which is the problem for Borini. He needs to get off the mark to restore a touch of self belief after scoring just once in the last 18 months.

Remember, this is a striker who employed his own sports psychologist to improve his goal return.

But whatever the cause, Borini needs to get his mojo back, with the room for leeway beginning to run out.

The fact is that Borini is now a Sunderland player and one that they shelled out £10million on, plus the big wages which accompany such a fee.

Allardyce has given him the chance in arguably his strongest position as an inside forward in each of the last two games, yet he has failed to find the net when presented with a pair of golden opportunities.

With Jermain Defoe fit again and immediately showing in his substitute outing against Watford what he injects into the attack, Borini can have no complaints if he finds himself back on the bench at Chelsea this weekend.

Neither is Borini the only option available to Allardyce. Jeremain Lens and Adam Johnson have both found themselves under-used over recent weeks and are desperate for a fresh opportunity in the starting XI.

Far from the regular spot he held under Gus Poyet, Borini could easily find himself limited to a super-sub role.

Borini has shown in a red and white shirt that he has the talent, plus the work-rate, to be a hero for this club. Now he has go out and make himself one again.