Sam Allardyce admits Sunderland owe Jermain Defoe a debt of gratitude for keeping their hopes of remaining in the Premier League alive.
Defoe netted his 14th top-flight goal of the campaign in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke City after the ex-England international kept his nerve from the penalty spot to draw Sunderland level with only seconds remaining at the Britannia Stadium.
Boss Allardyce is under no illusions about where Sunderland would be without Defoe, with the side built around making the most of the 33-year-old’s potency.
“We’ll have to thank him for the 14 goals because without them, I think we would already be relegated,” said Allardyce.
“We’ve tightened up the defensive side of our game to give opportunities to the players who score.
“We play through and wide and then try to play him in, in the final third because all the lads know that’s the way we need to play to allow Jermain to score goals.
“He’s continued to score goals over the last 10-12 games he’s played up there in that position.”
Allardyce smiled in his post-match press conference when he was informed that 11 of Defoe’s 14 goals this season have come away from home.
He added: “Is it really? That’s a great stat, ain’t it, that? I wish we were playing away from home next week then!
“Maybe that’s because he finds a little bit more space because the opposition have to attack you more, maybe that’s the case. We counter-attack and he gets that bit more space and takes full advantage of it.”