After a torrid start to the season where Sunderland only picked up two points from their opening ten games, David Moyes’ men finally won their first Premier League game of the season with a hard fought 2-1 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.
The Black Cats rode their luck at times, and owed a lot to the excellence of young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who is becoming more indispensable every time he steps onto the pitch, but the main difference for Sunderland was their increased competitiveness outfield and this was largely due to a fine performance by Victor Anichebe.
It was not just the individual performance of the ex-Everton striker that helped Sunderland to a maiden victory of the season, but his overall impact on the way the team was able to play.
For all of his worth up front on his own, and his continuing ability to score goals in a dire team, Jermain Defoe’s lack of hold-up play has not helped Sunderland this campaign. In their first ten games of the season, they had nobody up the field to hit and relieve pressure, making it more difficult for the team to get out of their defensive trenches.
The introduction of Anichebe to the first eleven changed that. Defoe was still on the pitch to provide his poachers instinct. Duncan Watmore also formed part of the attack, tracking back with Charlie Daniels relentlessly on the right hand side. But Sunderland now had a focal point and it was Anichebe.
Any time they wanted to keep possession, the ball would be rolled into the ex-Nigeria striker, either on the floor or in the air, and the Bournemouth centre backs would not be able to get it back. His phenomenal strength gave the defenders something different to think about, and it was something they couldn’t handle.
Having a system with Anichebe at the head of the team suited Sunderland to a tee, but they would still not have been able to win the game without a brilliant individual display from the striker in crucial moments.
First came the equalising goal. Anichebe got the ball in the box, rolled his man and fired an unstoppable shot into the back of the net. Until that point, Bournemouth had been all over Sunderland, and the ex-Everton forward had got them back into the game.
Then in the second half, Anichebe was breaking into the box on the counter attack, before being taken down by Adam Smith, who was desperately trying to hook the ball away from the striker. Defoe stuck the ball away, but the goal was down to the other striker.
Sunderland still may be five points from safety and facing an uphill struggle to stay up, but with Anichebe, they may finally have a system which allows them to compete.
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