Sam Allardyce hopes he has finally solved the debate over how to deploy Jermain Defoe after the striker’s match-winning brace against Aston Villa.
Allardyce’s two predecessors, Dick Advocaat and Gus Poyet, both struggled to find a solution over the Defoe dilemma after the pair were each convinced that the 33-year-old needed to be used in an orthodox front two.
We have to change our stye to say we have to play through midfieldSam Allardyce
Initially, that was Allardyce’s view too after switching to a 3-5-2 set-up in order to accommodate Defoe alongside Steven Fletcher up front.
But in Sunderland’s last two games, Defoe has been used as a lone striker and that ploy paid off with huge rewards against Villa after the England international’s second-half brace secured a priceless victory in the basement battle.
“Why has everybody constantly said he can’t play up front on his own?” said Allardyce.
“I’ve listened to everybody else say that, but I’ve decided to have a go with it.
“On Saturday, it paid off.
“It might not do in the future, but it might.
“Maybe everybody has to realise that he’s there to provide for; that he’s the end product, not there to be part of the build-up or to be a hold up player like Steven Fletcher, but to put the ball in the back of the net.
“So we have to change our stye to say we have to play through midfield, have to do better in wide positions, have to play better and cleverer balls for Jermain to get in goalscoring positions.
“If we do that, he’ll score goals and win us games.”
Despite using the 5ft 7in Defoe as the lone striker – and the equally slight Duncan Watmore and Fabio Borini out wide – Sunderland were still guilty of launching too many high and hopeful punts forward, particularly during the first half.
Allardyce is conscious of the need to improve that service, if Sunderland are to use the victory over Villa as a springboard for a survival challenge, with the Black Cats still four points adrift of safety.
“Jermain will say he was playing up front on his own, but the two wide men are supposed to join him and you’ve got the one behind in Adam Johnson who I think is starting to play more like his old self,” added Allardyce.
“Adam’s control of the ball and quality on the ball are things that we’re going to need. He can provide the service for Jermain to get between the full-backs and the centre-halves.
“We can’t afford to just kick it up the middle because that’s a waste of time, so we’ve got to try and play through midfield, switch the play, get balls in behind and down the sides for Jermain and Duncan and Fabio, none of whom are that big.
“Danny (Graham) came on and did okay. He just needs to get a goal. He’s got a lot of experience at this level, which is what we’re going to need.”