SAFC Analysis: Vital that Sunderland think bigger and better in the summer after another narrow escape

Connor Wickham outjumps Chelsea's Nemanja Matic
Connor Wickham outjumps Chelsea's Nemanja Matic
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Even when the perspiration of the relegation sweat-box had evaporated, Dick Advocaat did not bring out the pipe and slippers.

Advocaat’s touchline remonstrations with both his players and the fourth official were laced with so much aggression that there was even a chuckle from Jose Mourinho at one point in the second half.

Sunderland need at least one new centre-half, they need a midfield creator and, above all, they need pace, pace and then some more pace in the final third

If this proves to be Advocaat’s final game in management, then he wanted to continue doing what he has always done – won.

Whatever happened at Stamford Bridge though – and Sunderland actually produced a pretty decent performance – was meaningless.

Their work came at Arsenal last midweek.

But while the final day of the 2014-15 campaign can be swept under the carpet, the previous nine months of another season of miserable drudgery – other than the derbies and this last month – CANNOT be.

It is not simply a case of Sunderland surviving, needing to buy a couple of players and appointing a new manager, whether that be Dick Advocaat or A.N. Other this summer.

There needs to be a cultural shift in the corridors of power at the Stadium of Light to prevent the pattern of mistakes.

Just as importantly – if not more so – there needs to be a vast improvement in the club’s recruitment record. Sunderland cannot afford to persist with squandering owner Ellis Short’s millions.

Costel Pantilimon has proved to be an excellent piece of business from the nine new faces who arrived last summer, while Billy Jones, Patrick van Aanholt and Jordi Gomez have proved to be decent value for money.

But it’s impossible to argue with Advocaat’s pre-match comments that Sunderland still need half-a-dozen players who come in and immediately improve the calibre of the starting line-up.

Sunderland need at least one new centre-half, they need a midfield creator and, above all, they need pace, pace and then some more pace in the final third.

There will have to be departures too, both in offloading those not up to scratch and those not getting a game – categories which applied to several of those who featured yesterday.

After finding himself confined to playing second fiddle following last year’s Player of the Season accolade, there have to be question marks over whether Vito Mannone will depart, particularly with Jordan Pickford emerging from Sunderland’s academy.

Pickford is VERY highly-rated by Sunderland’s staff and after maturing during his loan stint at Bradford this season, is quite capable of being Pantilimon’s under-study.

Mannone didn’t do himself any favours on his first Premier League start since October’s defeat to his former club Arsenal.

The Italian had dealt with Chelsea’s pressure well during the opening 45 minutes, beaten only by Diego Costa’s penalty after John O’Shea tripped Cuadrado, but was badly exposed positionally for the first of Loic Remy’s brace – a low right-foot shot – after taking a needless small step to his left.

While the defending in front of him was poor, Mannone wasn’t great for Chelsea’s third goal in the closing stages either after failing to make himself big in that Peter Schmeichel starfish position as Remy beat him to convert Nemanja Matic’s cross from the left.

At the opposite end of the pitch, Steven Fletcher thankfully ended a goal drought which has dragged on for seven months – heading home an Adam Johnson corner at the far post – and provided some excellent passes and lay-offs during the first half.

But then Fletcher should have levelled within seconds of Chelsea taking the lead after sending a free header wide of the mark from eight yards out.

It’s those kind of misses which have hamstrung Sunderland all season.

If Sunderland can bank a few quid from the sales of both Fletcher – entering the final 12 months of his contract – and Mannone this summer, and re-invest it, then it wouldn’t necessarily be a blow to the club’s prospects.

The most damaging departure could be Advocaat himself.

The noises coming out of the Sunderland camp over the weekend have not been particularly encouraging about Advocaat’s prospects of extending his stint at the Stadium of Light.

Advocaat’s comments after the game yesterday on “if” he steps down, weren’t heartening either.

There is the suspicion that his wife will win out in implementing their retirement plans.

Short and Lee Congerton are doing everything they can to persuade Advocaat to prolong his managerial career, but, while the 67-year-old is undoubtedly tempted by the idea of remaining at Sunderland, the plan was already in place to end his decorated career.

If Advocaat does depart, Congerton faces a job on his hands to find a candidate boasting the ex-Holland manager’s experience who can oversee the club’s regeneration.

However, in just two months, Advocaat has restored some of Sunderland’s mojo.

He has made supporters proud again after witnessing performances where players are clearly bursting every sinew for the badge.

Yesterday’s game epitomised the positive changes which have developed since Gus Poyet’s departure.

A fantastically well-drilled team shape, where a hole is immediately plugged when one player goes to press, a defensive resilience and an urgency in getting bodies forward into the opposition penalty area.

It resulted in Sunderland arguably enjoying the better chances against Jose Mourinho’s Premier League champions, with Jermain Defoe going close on a couple of occasions and van Aanholt wasting a promising opening, aside from Fletcher’s moments.

Had Sunderland boasted that extra splash of quality in their ranks, they could easily have extended their five-game unbeaten run at the business end of the campaign.

But that is the challenge for Sunderland now.

Stay or go, Advocaat has laid the foundations for a much brighter future.

Now the club needs to provide the fixtures and fittings.