SUNDERLAND’S strike force came in for extra tuition on the training ground to fine-tune an understanding ahead of Saturday’s crunch victory against Burnley.
Frontmen Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham both got on the scoresheet in the 2-0 win over the Clarets, as only a second Stadium of Light win of the season in the Premier League moved Sunderland four points clear of the relegation zone.
Wickham replaced Steven Fletcher alongside Defoe, and was given a different remit as Gus Poyet reverted to a version of the 4-3-3 formation which he had used all season prior to the previous two games.
But Wickham was given licence to drift inside more than he was earlier in the campaign, while much of his defensive responsibilities were relinquished too.
“We talked to Connor a lot last week because he was the one there,” said Poyet. “Fletcher’s wife was having a baby and he was not at the training ground for a couple of days.
“We explained a couple of options to Connor about staying high. I think he keeps learning. It’s a new situation.
“Sometimes we forget that a striker needs to give you a hand defending.
“Not always wide, where he’s been playing for a lot of the season, but down the middle.
“It was about adapting and he’s going to get better.
“But the key for Connor was to put the ball in the back of the net. You don’t want your strikers just to defend.
“There were good combinations for the two goals and, on another day, we could have scored in the second half as well.”
Poyet abandoned the 3-5-2 formation in favour of going back to basics, and believes that was reflected in the outcome.
“If you analyse the game, without being fantastic, it was a game that will give you points,” he said.
“You don’t concede, you keep a clean sheet, you are solid, you manage the game and the strikers score.
“Those are basics of football.
“If we do that week in, week out, we should win football games.
“We were looking for that.”
However, the key for Poyet is that Sunderland’s first league victory of 2015 now provides the catalyst for the Black Cats to move further clear of danger.
The Uruguayan has pledged to banish any talk of Sunderland being in a healthier position, particularly with the visits of fellow strugglers QPR and West Brom following the next Premier League outing at Swansea this Saturday. “I’m going to convince everybody that we are not OK,” he added.
“As soon as we think we are OK, we are awful!
“So I’m going to keep convincing everybody that we are not.
“We have to treat Swansea like the last game of the season, like we played it against Burnley. We cannot think at any stage that we are OK.”