SUNDERLAND head coach Gus Poyet believes his players are starting to reap the rewards of playing football his way.
The Uruguayan has wanted the Black Cats to play in a clearly defined passing style from the moment he first arrived at the club in October.
And he says that the improved performances against Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea – in Sunderland’s last three matches – show the value of that particular approach when it is successfully implemented.
“The way we want to play is that when someone gets the ball they have options on to pass it – if possible to pass forward first and foremost,” said Poyet.
“Sometimes you can’t do that, because of good marking or whatever, so you then pass it sideways or backwards if you can’t.
“The most important thing is to go forward if you’re playing the game right, but also to hold on to the ball if you don’t have openings.
“Played right though, it is a very positive way of playing.
“The other week against Manchester City, I don’t know how many times we passed balls forward through the lines, to a midfielder to go forward. I don’t know how many times we passed the ball in behind their defenders.
“That’s why you create more – because you play in a certain way – and we have been playing in that certain way in the last few weeks, which has been great for me to see.”
Poyet says when his team gets confident in the way they are playing, they look a good side, despite remaining bottom of the Premier League going into the final four matches of the campaign.
“It is all about options and every game, even against the big teams, provides opportunities if you do different things,” he pointed out.
“There are always opportunities for you on a pitch – if a team is playing too deep, you have space to build from the back; if they are playing too high you have a chance to exploit the space behind.
“As players, you always have to be thinking about what you might be doing to make the most of possession and we have shown signs of getting there this season.
“That would be my aim long-term because, if we do it right, we will have possession but will also be able to create chances.
“The more you do it right, the better your results tend to be.”
At various stages this season, different players have come to the fore for Sunderland.
On-loan Swansea and South Korea midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng was the power behind the Black Cats’ initial pre-Christmas recovery under Poyet, while Adam Johnson’s form lifted the Wearsiders in January.
And in the last couple of games it has been England Under-21 international Connor Wickham who has caught the eye, scoring twice in the 2-2 draw at Manchester City and then once at Chelsea.
But Poyet’s philosophy says his way of playing is all about teamwork and not about one player.
“There was an argument earlier in the season that if you stopped Ki Sung-Yueng, you stopped Sunderland,” he reflected.
“It was rubbish – that would have been too easy.
“We won games without him, so it was not the case.
“But these are the things the team are realising – that it is not just down to one player, or one way of playing – it is about a flexible approach based around passing the ball well and looking to be positive.”