Jermain Defoe can lead the line for Sunderland if he has a helping hand up front, insists Dick Advocaat.
Since the £7.75million capture of Fabio Borini last month, Sunderland boss Advocaat has been mulling over whether to use the Italian or Defoe on the left-hand side of his front three.
Normally, we have played with a holding player, but now we are playing more with an attacking midfielderDick Advocaat
Defoe has been desperate to operate in his favoured central striker role, yet Advocaat was adamant after Sunderland’s opening day defeat at Leicester, that the 32-year-old was not able to play down the middle in his 4-3-3 set-up.
However, by sacrificing holding midfielder Lee Cattermole for the more attack-minded Ola Toivonen against Spurs, Advocaat tweaked his system to provide more support for Defoe, with Borini and Jeremain Lens offering a threat from the flanks too.
And despite Sunderland suffering a 1-0 defeat against his former club, Defoe caused the Spurs defence plenty of problems, with the woodwork denying him a sixth goal of the season.
Advocaat said: “I always said you could not play him on his own, but now you have a different situation with Toivonen.
“Normally, we have played with a holding player, but now we are playing more with an attacking midfielder.
“He (Defoe) worked his socks off and then he needs the luck they had at the end with the one-two combination and the block from Yann (M’Vila) against Billy (Jones).
“That’s the reason Mason had a free-run (for the Spurs goal).
“If you keep going this way, you create chances and have players who can do something in a one-on-one situation with Lens and Fabio.
“I think we saw some good moments from Toivonen and that gives us a good feeling.”
But while Sunderland produced their best performance of the season so far in Advocaat’s new-look set-up, they paid the price for a lack of fitness, as their energy levels dipped in the last half-hour and gave an unconvincing Spurs side a route back into the game.
Summer signings Toivonen, Lens and Borini were all struggling in the second half, as was Jordi Gomez, who was surprisingly recalled to the starting XI after four months on the treatment table.
“You can only get the fitness back if you play, not only with training,” added Advocaat.
“We have to start and then see how it ends.
“I was quite pleased with what I saw, even after 1-0, the crowd was very positive which I appreciated.
“Like Toivonen (Borini) played the whole of last season as a striker, not a midfielder and there’s a big difference.
“But he also said the speed of the game was unbelievable from both sides.
“Both teams when they got the ball, went forwards to try to get a goal.
“Our wingers, with the full-backs of the other side, had to run and work.
“They’re not used to doing that in Europe, the way a lot of teams do that here.”