Friday spotlight: Challenge on for Altidore to prove a real star in stripes for Sunderland

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore
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IT’S just over a decade now since Claudio Reyna departed Wearside, depriving the Echo (possibly forever) of its “Captain America” headlines.

That still lamented loss at Echo Towers also saw us having to quietly fold up and put away another lovely bit of nimble wordplay.

But this week, the old “Star in Stripes” banner could be pleasingly dusted off and unfurled again for publication – Jozy Altidore having scored his first league goal for Sunderland.

Actually, his first league goal should have come in September when he coolly slotted home against Arsenal, only for wayward referee Martin Atkinson to wrongly disallow it.

Poor decisions like that can have long-term consequences for new strikers needing to get off the mark quickly for the sake of their confidence – Danny Graham no doubt being the first who would endorse such a point of view.

But Altidore finally got that monkey off his back this week with an adept finish in a fizzing, end-to-end, firecracker of a game against title contenders Chelsea at the Stadium of Light.

Coming, as it did, in a game which spawned seven goals and many more talking points, it has been easy to overlook what was the opening goal of a salvo.

Easy, but wrong.

That’s because Black Cats fans must hope this is the first of many from a player who Sunderland’s signing of this summer showcased a conviction that his time in the Premier League had come.

As a teenager on loan to Hull City, he managed just one goal in 16 Premier League starts.

But a goal-laden spell for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, and for his country, had persuaded those in the corridors of power at Sunderland that the young American was now ready for a return.

Theoretically, Altidore has now shown he’s twice the player he was at the KC Stadium (one goal in eight Premier League starts, compared to twice as many at Hull), but such comparisons are facetious.

Sunderland paid the not insubstantial sum of £6.5m for a player who ticked all their boxes of requirements: young, (still only 24), still improving, big, strong athletic and with the potential to get better.

But up until Wednesday, it just hadn’t worked out as hoped.

It’s unfair to say he’s flattered to deceive – he’s looked neat and tidy in spells, strong enough to cause problems for the best of defenders, and he has a delicate touch for a big man as well as good vision and the ability to find his man with a deceptively good pass.

So far, so good.

But where he’s failed to deliver is in the area where all strikers are judged – the “goals scored” column.

His first league goal has been a long time a coming – December is here – but if it was worth the wait, it was because it showcased Altidore at his best.

He showed alertness in the box to receive Jack Colback’s stabbed pass, great technique to control, impressive agility to swivel on the dropping ball and a striker’s eye and awareness of the goal in smashing the ball unstoppably past Petr Cech.

What it meant to Altidore himself was obvious to all as he raced away towards a North Stand corner flag bristling with joy and relief.

Now Sunderland fans have to hope that the American striker is up and running and this is the start of a purple patch.

He has tended to score his goals in bursts throughout his career and now would be a perfect time to start another goal rush as far as Sunderland are concerned.

The goal itself against Chelsea – so classily despatched – will have done wonders for his confidence.

It is also likely to see him keep his place in the starting line-up when Spurs visit the Stadium of Light tomorrow.

More than that, it can only act as a stimulus for Steven Fletcher, who watched his team-mate’s goal from the bench.

That impressive finish should not only have flashed a reminder to the Scot that he is not the only goalscorer in the camp, but also helped relieve some of the pressure on Fletcher, by indicating that he is not the only go-to guy in the squad when it comes to scoring goals.

All of this will hopefully be seriously good news for a Sunderland side which has been serially goal-shy this season.

Hopefully good, too, for Echo headline writers.

Wouldn’t it be great if Wednesday was only the start of a spell in which he fully justifies the fee paid by Sunderland, and the faith shown in his potential?

And should he go on to score the goal which keeps Sunderland up this season?

The “God bless America!” back page screamer is already teed up.

Twitter @sunechograeme