Lack of possession will bring Sunderland to standstill – the stats prove it

Jermain Defoe was starved of the ball on Sunday at Spurs
Jermain Defoe was starved of the ball on Sunday at Spurs
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On April 2, 2016, West Bromwich Albion visited the Stadium of Light to play out a goalless draw. Your memories of the game are probably about as vivid as mine.

But there is one statistic from the game that you may find significant. Almost six months later it remains the last Premier League game in which Sunderland had greater possession than their opponents.

This is something that has only occurred three times since the beginning of last season; thrice in 43 games.

We all know what they say about statistics and indeed, there are some quirks here. In last term’s 3-0 hammerings of Newcastle, Norwich and Everton, those beaten teams had more of the ball in all three fixtures, but still deserved to lose.

Even dreadful old Aston Villa had 55 per cent possession during their routinely awful display in Sunderland’s 3-1 win on January 2.

Conversely, the only other two games in which Sunderland had over half of the possession was the home draw with Crystal Palace and the opening day defeat at Leicester, both poor shows from SAFC.

But the odd numerical anomaly aside, the lack of possession in games is one of the more meaningful stats – and very worrying.

Gus Poyet was obsessed with keeping the ball, to the point where attacking seemed to be discouraged. But there is a happy medium and in Poyet’s defence there were 13 clean sheets in the tedious 2014-15 season.

He understood that doing nothing with the ball except retaining it means that the opposition can’t score (although Santiago Vergini rather undermined that theory).

Sunday’s game at Tottenham was a case in point. Spurs were challenging for the title last season while Sunderland, let’s say, weren’t. But even so, should Sunderland have allowed their opponents to have the ball for over three-quarters of the game?

The defending at White Hart Lane was generally OK. But when the other team has so much of the ball they will eventually force a costly mistake; which is exactly what happened.

The trouble was that Sunderland felt the need to over-exuberantly try to, somehow, create something during the fleeting moments when they did have control.

Noble intention, but too often this meant running into a defender, misplacing a pass or thumping a high one up to an isolated striker of below average height. A pass back to the goalkeeper is preferable to that.

One of the reasons why Stefan Schwarz was such an effective player some years ago was that he knew where to stand. This sounds almost stupidly simple, until you see the lack of options available to a current Sunderland player when he has the ball in the opposition half.

So please lads, spread out a bit, leave Jermain Defoe on the half-way line when defending a corner and make more movement off the ball.

And remember, on a football pitch it’s a good thing to look up and see someone wearing the same outfit as you. Don’t be embarrassed because you’ve clashed, like two women at a cocktail party.