Sunderland’s relegation rivals will not have enjoyed Monday night one bit.
They have feared the impact Sam Allardyce could have at the Stadium of Light since his appointment and over the course of 90 minutes at Selhurst Park those fears will have been realised all too clearly in Sunderland’s best performance of the season.
Isn’t it incredible how one result can transform your outlook on the entire season?
Before Monday’s game, with a brutal run of games on the horizon, we were wondering where the next win was going to come from.
Now we’re all studying the league table, realising how another victory over Stoke on Saturday could lift us out of the bottom three for the first time this season.
This is not an over reaction either, it’s based on evidence of a clear plan being implemented almost to perfection by Allarydce and his coaching team.
After a clearly well utilised international break, Sunderland looked organised, well drilled, cohesive and committed.
The 3-5-2 formation, which showed promise at Goodison despite the second-half mauling, made perfect sense to eliminate the threat posed by Crystal Palace’s pacy widemen.
Sebastian Coates and Younes Kaboul, who always look so much more composed alongside John O’Shea, barely put a foot wrong.
O’Shea himself marshalled the back line superbly and yet again showed his value to Sunderland’s survival cause.
Billy Jones, though occasionally rash in the tackle, showed a willingness to get forward while on the other flank, Patrick van Aanholt offered glimpses of his electric attacking ability.
Allarydce will know there is a very exciting footballer within the young Dutchman, and he could not ask for a better tutor from whom to learn some football sense.
If his decision-making improves, Van Aanholt will be a huge asset for Sunderland.
The midfield three offered steady protection and a real desire to pass the ball which didn’t always come off; an area that is sure to improve as their confidence rises.
And the front two were tireless in their work, finally rewarded when Jermain Defoe got his break in front of goal.
The subs made an impact too, in particular Duncan Watmore who is a delight to watch and in the nicest possible way reminds me of Forrest Gump. He just wants to run!
I’m thrilled he’s signed a new deal, reward for the great promise he’s already shown, and hopefully a sign that Sunderland have learnt from letting one or two others slip through the net in the past.
Arguably the one downside of the 3-5-2 is the lack of room for players like Watmore and the club’s best attacking player Jeremain Lens, though perhaps on another day either could play ahead of the midfield, behind one of Fletcher or Defoe: the width in this formation comes from the wing backs.
I’m not sure we’ll see this plan used against Stoke on Saturday; at West Ham last season Sam had one way of playing at home and another on their travels.
There is ,though, a case to be made that the more they play this way the more accustomed they will become to it.
Stoke are the perfect example of that and at the Stadium of Light on Saturday it’s likely they will field an unchanged lineup for the fourth game in succession.
Why would you change after back to back wins against Chelsea and Southampton and when you haven’t conceded for three matches?
This is also a team which hasn’t conceded a goal away from home since September!
Then they have three players who break the mould.
Like so many teams this season Stoke have been better on their travels but another week of improvement on the training ground and Sunderland might just have another surprise in store.