Jordan Willis on Oxford win, why that goal is definitely his and the secrets of Sunderland's defensive success

First and foremost, one thing needs clearing up.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 10:22 am

Sunderland took the lead at the Kassam Stadium when Jordan Willis did superbly to get ahead of his marker, the experienced John Mousinho, at the near post.

It was barely a minute into the contest but Chris Maguire’s delivery was right on the money and Willis made no mistake with a deft header towards the far corner.

Willis was announced as the goalscorer but to the bafflement of most observers, it began to be attributed in various places as a Mousinho own goal.

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Sunderland celebrate a crucial early goal from Jordan Willis

“It is my goal, yep,” Willis said.

“Just to clear that up.

“I don't even think it did come off Mousinho at all.”

That smart header was just one contribution in another excellent performance from the 25-year-old, part of a defence that survived some heavy pressure throughout the contest to secure three vital points for the Black Cats.

Their recent defensive record has been nothing short of exceptional and this committed display made it easy to see why.

Sunderland now have the best defensive record in the division and remarkably, have seven clean sheets from their last eight.

Most encouragingly of all, that form has survived occasional enforced changes to personnel.

That is likely to be key again in the coming weeks, with Sunderland concerned that Bailey Wright may be set for a spell on the sidelines after suffering an ankle injury.

Willis says his team’s defensive record is a credit to the whole squad, and praised Josh Scowen and Alim Ozturk for their important contributions after being brought on in the second half.

“It's a difficult place to come, especially with the conditions,” Willis said.

“We were fortunate to go a goal ahead early on but I think from then on it was a professional performance.

“Second half we struggled to get out at stages, but we defended very well to keep that clean sheet.

“No matter who is playing, we know how each other players and we've built good bonds with each other.

“You're still getting the same result out of us no matter who is playing.

“It's credit to everyone, especially the lads who didn't start,” he added.

“It's not easy to come on in a game like that and they've slotted straight in and performed very well.

“Everyone has got to play their part.”

A late equaliser for AFC Wimbledon at Rotherham United has left Sunderland just three points off top spot in a wide-open race for the promotion places.

That defensive form will be key and Willis hailed the mentality of his team-mates.

“We're really organised out of possession now, everyone knows their role,” he said.

“Limiting teams to minimal chances is key and we're managing to do that.

“I think it is just the graft [in training] and then just the mentality throughout the whole team.

“Everyone wants to put their body on the line, even from set pieces you see strikers and midfielders coming back and throwing themselves in front of the ball.

“It's credit to everyone that we've got that mentality.”