Sunderland’s hopes of Premier League survival have been boosted by the dramatic 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace.
We caught up with Sunderland legend Gary Bennett to discuss the relegation picture, David Moyes and the business done in the January window.
Q Only one place to start, at the Palace! What did you make of Sunderland’s 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace?
A It was comfortable! We knew it was coming. No, everybody was surprised I think, not just about the win but the overall performance. The way we played, there was a good spirit, playing with a lot of confidence. Goals change games and Lamine Kone’s goal saw the team grow in confidence. Every time we broke forward we looked like scoring.
Q Jermain Defoe scored two more goals to take his tally to 14, what more can you say about his impact at Sunderland?!
AHe is crucial to the team because without Jermain Defoe where will the goals come from? Sam Allardyce had identified he was a danger beforehand, he said his defenders had to keep an eye on him, you saw what happened.
Q Have you been impressed with the impact of Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong since they returned from the Africa Cup of Nations?
A Sometimes a spell away on international duty or a trip back home can see players come back revitalised. You come to the North East and you talk about settling in but sometimes a trip back home picks you up and you come back refreshed and revitalised. They have both done really well since coming back into the side.
Q How do you see the relegation battle? Six teams are separated by just two points.
A It is what Sunderland do, ultimately. You can’t be looking at Hull City, Leicester City etc if you are not keeping up your end of bargain. It is tight at the bottom now, Sunderland have not had the best of seasons but it was important we got a result on Saturday because otherwise a gap opens up. Now, can we put a run together? We have had one before. Southampton is a massive game but it is what we do, not others.
Q How good was Bryan Oviedo’s debut?
A It is difficult to judge after one game. I have seen a lot of debuts, as have supporters. One game they look outstanding but then struggle, you can go back to Stanislav Varga who was brilliant but it was an uphill climb after that. Let’s not get carried away. He has set his own standards, though, and if he does reproduce that regularly then he has been a great purchase.
Q What did you make of the January window?
A I think it surprised people. Nobody was expecting anybody to come in, there was talk of signing a centre forward but we were told there was no money at the start of the month. To do the business Moyes has done, bringing in Lescott, Oviedo and Gibson is better than what we thought was going to happen.
Q How do you rate the job done by Moyes so far?
A I think the manager has been excellent. You look at the pressure he has been under. The squad and the injury problems but credit to him, he has never shied away from the situation. It is what it is, he has dealt with it and been able to put a team together to compete. One thing that did stand out on Saturday was that they were well organised. That is down to the manager.
H Gary Bennett was speaking at a Tesco Bank Junior Players school football tournament led by the Foundation of Light at the Silksworth Sports Complex, in Sunderland.
The community sports programme, in partnership with Tesco Bank and Tesco Underwriting, annually will see 15,000 primary school pupils from across the North East of England take part in football and basketball sessions led by the Foundation of Light, Newcastle United Foundation and Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation in schools.