How Abdoullah Ba's new Sunderland role in Norwich City win gave Tony Mowbray's side a much-needed lift
"We can’t get near him in training,” admitted Luke O’Nien when asked about Sunderland matchwinner Abdoullah Ba following the side’s 1-0 win at Norwich. “We end up just kicking him.”
Ba played a starring role at Carrow Road by scoring his first Black Cats goal on just his fourth league start for the club.
When the midfielder’s low shot beat Norwich keeper Angus Gunn in the 15th minute, he didn’t know which way to turn, inadvertently running towards the home supporters rather than the jubilant away end.
Ba scored one senior goal in 27 appearances for French second-tier side Le Havre before moving to Wearside, but has looked more effective in an advanced midfield role since joining the Black Cats.
Against Norwich Ba was deployed up alongside forward Joe Gelhardt, who assisted the Frenchman’s goal, in what started out as a 4-4-2 set-up.
It was a tactic which worked effectively as Canaries centre-backs Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson tried to play out from the back but were consistently put under pressure. Nervousness and then frustration started to grow among the home supporters.
Still, after a chastening 5-1 defeat by Stoke the week before, it was a natural reaction for Sunderland’s team to drop deeper and protect their early lead.
Tony Mowbray’s side still posed a threat on the counter attack, though, with wingers Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke quick to spring forward and look for Ba or Gelhardt when in possession.
On the ball, aside from his goal, this wasn’t actually Ba’s most eye-catching performance, with the 19-year-old completing just three of his seven attempted passes according to Wyscout.
Yet it was Ba’s off-the-ball work which will have particularly pleased Mowbray, as the teenager continues to adapt to Championship football. When it does all come together, Sunderland have an extremely exciting prospect.
Ba’s influence against Norwich was just starting to wane when he was replaced by Lynden Gooch in the 67th minute, with fresh legs needed for the final quarter of the match.
With ten league games remaining this season, Mowbray will continue to look for ways to get the best out of Ba and maximise the player’s impressive ability.
A change of position at Carrow Road certainly paid off.