Wise Men Say: Sunderland tuning up to hit high note

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WHEN Jermain Defoe buried Sunderland’s second goal on Saturday, you could feel a weight lift around the Stadium of Light as a city breathed a sigh of relief.

A league home win at last!

The previous one, a 3-1 victory over Stoke City – can you remember it? – felt like a lifetime ago and, after disappointing results and performances on home soil against the likes of Fulham and Hull City, this was was three much-needed points for Gus Poyet and his men.

After tinkering with his side and moving to a back three in recent weeks, Poyet returned to a version of 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 against Burnley, with Defoe leading the line and Connor Wickham tasked with providing physical support from wide areas.

Given how atrocious Burnley’s left-back Ben Mee had been in the reverse fixture, it was no surprise to see Wickham nominally start from the right, where he was able to make his presence felt.

However, it was from the centre of the box that the big striker opened the scoring, nodding in a right-wing cross delivered by the returning, and impressively solid, Anthony Reveillere.

In the wake of Poyet’s recent comments about Quinn, Phillips and Peter Reid’s Sunderland of 15 years ago, there was a definite hint of irony about the way the goal was scored, coming as it did from an overlapping right-back crossing for a big man.

The build-up to the second goal was a mirror image of the first, only this time Patrick van Aanholt’s drilled ball from the left was fired home by Defoe, who launched himself foot first to divert the ball home.

In another parallel, both goals came as a result of midfielders – Sebastian Larsson and Jordi Gomez – finding the marauding full-backs with defence-splitting through balls on either side of the pitch.

That’s not to say this was vintage Reid era Sunderland on show. The goals also came from patient passing around the halfway line, the first arriving after Adam Johnson had picked the ball up inside his own half.

At the time, it was frustrating to see the winger so deep. He had flitted in and out of the game and was rarely found in the opposition half, but, on this occasion, his backward movement proved fruitful.

After the second goal had been scored, Sunderland meandered towards an important three points, while, try as they might, Burnley struggled and ultimately failed to convert a number of fairly decent chances.

Their squad has Championship written all over it and they will be lucky to stay up; their recent purple patch seems to have lost its shine.

Sunderland could perhaps have gone for the jugular and really battered a poor Burnley side, but the second half was characterised by professionalism rather than panache.

Given our recent woes, that’s no bad thing, but it would have been nice to see more of Ricky Alvarez or even Emanuele Giaccherini.

Danny Graham made an appearance as a second-half substitute and, while he looked lean and lively, it was odd to see him come on and play from the right ahead of the aforementioned schemers.

These are minor points of contention, and ultimately the three points Poyet’s men claimed were all important.

Now Sunderland must do what they failed to after the win over Stoke and use this victory as a platform, starting with an FA Cup win at Fulham tomorrow night.

At the very least, here’s hoping there is fine tuning rather than tinkering ahead.

* The Wise Men Say podcast is available every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.