Is the form of this goal-scorer the defining factor behind Sunderland's resurgence?
Jermain Defoe. Wherever he goes, he scores goals. He may not have had the most tact when advertising for a “personal assistant” with a job description ranging from producing iPhone apps to stocking his fridge and watering his plants; but of his goal scoring ability there can be little question. Sunderland have won three of their last six games, with a stunning smash and grab (not often you can say that about a 0-3 victory) over fierce rivals Newcastle United and back to back hard fought wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke City – good victories for a bottom three side in the current climate.
How much has Defoe got to do with this mini-revival?
Defoe is currently the Black Cat’s leading goal scorer with seven (correct at time of writing) already to his name, and crucially scored the match winner against Crystal Palace, as well as rescuing a point against Swansea earlier in the season. The 33 year old has also featured in the majority of Sunderland fixtures so far this season and is Wearside’s identifiable talisman. The former West Ham and Spurs (amongst others) has that knack that all good strikers do – knowing where the back of the net is. Simple enough to utter or type, this is actually far more difficult in practise. Defoe’s uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, as well as the innate striker’s greed means he is capable of scoring all kinds of goals; from the simple tap-in, to the 25 yard banger as well as the off-the-shin bundle. Jermain sat out the Arsenal fixture with a hamstring injury, but is expected to return this weekend. His maintenance of fitness is of paramount importance to Sunderland’s survival hopes, as when on the pitch he brings a ubiquitous goal threat.
As much as an in-form Defoe is of great significance to Sunderland staying up, his goals are not the only reason behind the North East side’s resurgence. Sam Allardyce was appointed boss in the wake of Dick Advocaat’s resignation in October this year, and the former West Ham and Bolton manager has markedly improved the Mackem’s defence. Since the arrival of “Big Sam” Sunderland have conceded on thirteen occasions over seven games, a rate of 1.86 goals a game, with three clean sheets over that run of fixtures (at the time of writing). The 6-2 defeat to Everton in Allardyce’s third game rather skews the figures, and was really before the 61 year old could implement his defensive strategies, further marking the improvement.
Contrasting these figures to the eight Premier League games under Advocaat this season, really highlights the defensive improvement. With no clean sheets (or victories) whatsoever the Black Cats shipped an average of 2.25 a game. The below video of the goals of the 6-3 Sunderland victory in the August League Cup tie versus League Two side Exeter City, conveys the extent of their defensive frailties (particularly from crosses) and also the predatory instinct of our man Jermain Defoe.
The relative success of other players in the red and white of Sunderland should also not be overlooked. Scottish striker Steven Fletcher has four goals to his name, all in the Premier League – the same number in this competition as Defoe, whilst Duncan Watmore’s name is on the lips of everyone on Wearside, and actually wider afield too. Watmore was signed two years ago from Altrincham where the striker-cum-winger impressed in the Conference North. His two years at Sunderland have clearly refined him further as a player, and the ginger haired 21 year old is catching the eye of many with his performances in the Premier League, and for England U21s. Watmore is certainly one to keep in mind when thinking of the future of English football just as much as the infamous Dele Alli, who perhaps enjoys larger media coverage than Watmore.
Upcoming fixtures for Big Sam’s Black Cats are Chelsea Manchester City and Liverpool. Whilst it is too early in the season to be setting definite points totals for a set of games, the Mackems will fancy their chances of at least a point out of an out of sorts Chelsea side, whilst the City and Liverpool games will prove tricky over the Christmas period, of that there is no doubt. However, with the recent improvement of their defence, and the goals of Defoe there is no reason for Sunderland to completely write off these fixtures.
Will Sunderland stay up? If they do is it exclusively because of Jermain Defoe?
The second question is rather more straightforward to answer than its predecessor. Defoe will not keep Sunderland in the Premier League on his own, but all teams at this level require out and out goal grabbers, and that’s what the England international can offer. Now to answer the question of whether Sunderland will stay up – it’s anybody’s guess at this stage of the campaign. There are quality players at Allardyce’s disposal (those aforementioned and some omitted completely, such as Jeremain Lens) and with his solid and resolute style of play, I would suggest that the Black Cats have more than even chance of striking lucky and staying in the Premier League, again.
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