Richard Mennear: Sunderland’s Lamine Kone could prove one of the signings of the season, but has he arrived too late?

Lamine Kone gets the better of Manchester City on his Sunderland debut. Picture by Frank Reid
Lamine Kone gets the better of Manchester City on his Sunderland debut. Picture by Frank Reid
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From the moment Manchester City’s midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure was sent crashing to the turf, a new fans’ favourite was born at the Stadium of Light.

It takes some strength to topple Toure and Sunderland’s £5million January signing has power in abundance.

With 69 minutes on the clock on Tuesday, Lamine Kone got to the ball first on the halfway line and followed through firmly into the midriff of the onrushing Toure.

It was a very firm – but fair challenge – and it took Toure a good while to get up off the floor and gather his thoughts.

Kone, meanwhile, was already back in position alongside John O’Shea at the heart of Sunderland’s defence – with his name ringing out around the Stadium of Light.

It wasn’t a dream debut for the Ivory Coast international, with Sergio Aguero’s 16th-minute strike proving to be enough for the visitors to take all three points.

But Kone can be proud of his full Sunderland debut after a couple of nervy moments early on.

The centre-back, who turned 27 on deadline day, looked very much the part; strong, sharp, athletic, quick and he took no prisoners when it came to heading the ball clear of the danger zone or committing himself to a challenge.

He slotted straight in.

And the fact that he is indeed able to ‘hit the ground running’ was a key reason Sam Allardyce took the plunge to sign him – at the third attempt.

Sunderland’s Achilles heel has been clear to see this season.

They concede too many goals – 47 in 24 league games to be precise – the worst record in the top flight.

And they concede too many goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches, holding the record with nine shipped inside the first 15 minutes.

At least Kone’s arrival saw them survive until the 16th minute. Progress! Of sorts.

But, seriously, Allardyce had no choice but to strengthen his defensive options in the January window and he went about doing just that.

On first impressions, Kone looks like a very solid piece of business.

Jan Kirchhoff – who can also play in central defence – was hailed as the man of the match against City, thanks in part to the comments from Allardyce post-match about his performance being one of the best he’d seen this campaign.

And while Kirchhoff starred, Kone was equally impressive on his full debut.

It left fans thinking what might have been.

Where would Sunderland be if Kone had arrived at the beginning of the January window as he was initially supposed to?

Instead, he didn’t arrive until the end of January.

The move initially collapsed on January 7 before it was resurrected only for it to fall down again.

Finally – at the third time of asking – Sunderland got their man, with Kone signing a permanent deal until the end of the 2020 campaign.

The full extent of the reasons behind the collapse of the first two attempts at signing him are unlikely to ever be made public.

What matters is that he finally did arrive.

But has he arrived too late?

Could he have proved the difference in the 4-1 defeat at White Hart Lane or the 1-1 home draw with AFC Bournemouth?

Sunderland were on course for a point against Spurs before a monumental second-half collapse, while the game against the Cherries was an opportunity for a win against one of their relegation rivals.

In the end, they had to settle for a point.

Could Kone have made the difference?

We’ll never know.

But against City, the Black Cats looked assured at the back, with Kone slotting in with ease at the back.

Of course, we shouldn’t hang too much hope on first impressions – Kirchhoff proved that after coming back from his own personal horror show against Spurs to then shine against City, albeit in a different role.

But the French-born centre-back looks the real deal and could prove one of THE signings of the January window.

For his part, the defender is delighted to have finally moved to Sunderland, a chance for him to realise his Premier League dream.

Kone told the Echo: “Yes, I thought I would be staying at Lorient last week because the transfer at the start of the window had fallen through.

“But then everything changed when Sunderland renewed their interest and, eventually, it was a happy ending for me.

“I’m very happy to be here now.”

He isn’t the only one.

Fans are expecting big things from the Ivory Coast international for the rest of the campaign.

And Toure – for one – will be grateful he doesn’t have to face him again.