IT’S been quite the turn of the month for the Black Cats.
A massive 1-0 victory at home to Stoke precluded a 3-0 drubbing of fierce rivals Newcastle, a victory which not only sealed a much-clamoured for double over their neighbours, but also lifted Gus Poyet’s side to the heights of 14th in the table.
It is often hard to pinpoint why a team suddenly hits a run of form, but in Sunderland’s case it is abundantly clear.
Whilst Adam Johnson’s resurgence has been a large contributor to the Black Cats’ recovery, the partnership of John O’Shea and Wes Brown at the heart of the defence has been essential to the recent turnaround in form.
Ever since the shock 1-0 victory over Manchester City at the Stadium of Light in November, Brown’s first start in the Premier League in 22 months, Guy Poyet’s men have lost only three of the eleven games that the two have teamed up in.
Indeed, the only defeat Sunderland have suffered in the league since the first Saturday of December was the home reverse to Aston Villa on New Year’s Day, a game that Brown was suspended for.
Certainly, Brown’s comeback from injury has been a major boost to his old Manchester United team-mate O’Shea.
The Republic of Ireland international struggled for form early in the season, especially under previous boss Paolo Di Canio, with his concession of a penalty and ultimate sending off against Crystal Palace being a particularly low moment in the early part of his season.
Being partnered with the likes of Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge left O’Shea as the man to carry the burden, as the new arrivals attempted to adapt to the pace and physical demands of the Premier League
Diakite has since been loaned out to Italian side Fiorentina and Roberge, when he has been involved, has shown himself to be lacking the concentration and positional awareness to be a major player in a team battling relegation. Brown’s return has been crucial.
Some raised their eyebrows at the double signing of O’Shea and Brown back in 2011 as Brown’s injury record was well documented and returned to haunt him fairly swiftly after his arrival at the Stadium of Light.
O’Shea was considered very much a utility man, ably fitting into many positions when required by then United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
He amassed a wealth of medals in his time at Old Trafford and certainly played his part, but was never the focal part of a defence, something he was destined to be in the North-East.
Now, however, the Black Cats are finally reaping some of the benefits of the money they parted with to bring the duo to the club.
The major issue for Gus Poyet is keeping his key men fit. Brown always seems to be on the verge of an injury setback, given his prior record and O’Shea himself isn’t averse to suffering an ailment or two.
With his side still in the FA Cup, Poyet needs to wrap his centre halves in cotton wool in order to maintain Sunderland’s Premier League status.
The team he fielded against Kidderminster suggests the Uruguayan is fully aware of that.
If both men can avoid injury, Brown in particular, then this may well be the deciding factor in Sunderland’s future. Lose them to the treatment table and that future may look a lot bleaker.
•This article was written by FTBpro’s Andrew Easton
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