Sunderland 3 Aston Villa 1: Black Cats MUST keep hold of Jermain Defoe plus five others things learned from vital win

Lee Cattermole
Lee Cattermole
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Phew. What a relief.

Sunderland's crucial 3-1 win over Aston Villa has restored hope and belief that Premier League safety can be achieved.

Sunderland beat Aston Villa 3-1

Sunderland beat Aston Villa 3-1

The Black Cats are now four points from safety after the Stadium of Light victory but Sam Allardyce admits the situation remains dire.

Here's what we learned from the win:

Aston Villa doomed. Hope for Sunderland, though:

This was a 'must-not-loose' game for Sunderland and boss Sam Allardyce.

Sunderland beat Aston Villa 3-1

Sunderland beat Aston Villa 3-1

And they didn't. Thanks to another improved defensive display and the clinical finishing of Jermain Defoe.

In truth, Aston Villa offered little despite dominating the early possession.

But Defoe's class shone through second-half. And he made the most of his two chances.

He almost had a hat-trick too.

There will be no way back for Villa after this defeat.

Jermain Defoe proves he can lead the line amid reports of interest from AFC Bournemouth:

The debate over whether Defoe can only play if he has a partner alongside him up front has been ongoing all season.

But the win over Aston Villa proved he CAN lead the line by himself - provided the support from midfield is there.

Adam Johnson, Fabio Borini and Duncan Watmore provided the legs, the final ball was lacking though.

But when Defoe's chance finally came he took it.

With the transfer window now open, there is again reported interest in Defoe from AFC Bournemouth. Sunderland must keep hold of him though if they are to stand a chance of staying up this season.

Replacing his goals would be a tough ask.

Sunderland show great spirit, nerve and determination:

Confidence is a wonderful thing.

And the Black Cats looked a bag of nerves - understandable after five straight defeats - until Patrick van Aanholt opened the scoring.

Leandro Bacuna was running the show early on, dispossessing Lee Cattermole with embarrassing ease at one stage.

But Cattermole - and Sunderland - fought back well, with Bacuna anonymous after the break.

Sunderland deserve praise for keeping their nerve after Aston Villa equalised and they showed great spirit and determination to go on and seal three vital points.

Villa's awful - and at times comical defending - helped, as Sunderland finally discovered their goalscoring boots.

Let's hope it continues.

Long ball to Jermain Defoe didn't work. Who'd have thought?

The strangest tactic of the opening game of 2016 was the option of playing the ball long up to Defoe in the first half, the 33-year-old not known for his height or ability to hold the ball up.

Time and time again the ball was punted up-field to one of the smallest men on the pitch.

It didn't work once. Who'd have thought, hey?

Defoe was almost a spectator until the Sunderland players finally changed their approach and began to reap the reward.

Expect changes aplenty for Arsenal FA Cup tie:

Sam Allardyce has already confirmed he plans to make sweeping changes for the trip to the Emirates.

So expect to see the likes of Ola Toivonen, Danny Graham, Jordi Gomez and DeAndre Yedlin handed starts.

And don't be surprised to see Jordan Pickford named in the starting line-up.

Pickford is back from his loan spell at Preston North End and while he wasn't involved against Aston Villa, he was helping Vito Mannone and Costel Pantilimon warm up beforehand.

On Saturday, they could be helping him to warm up.

Swansea City away now becomes the 'biggest game of the season':

The Aston Villa game was rightly dubbed the biggest of the season so far.

Well, Sunderland successfully passed that test.

And now, their next 'biggest game of the season' is just around the corner.

After the third round FA Cup clash with Arsenal, Sunderland play Swansea City in the Premier League at the Liberty Stadium the following Wednesday.
Swansea are currently 17th, two places and four points above Sunderland.

Another 'must-not-lose' game beckons...