From The Durham Times: Change In Bendtner Perception More Than Welcome

From The Durham Times: Change in Bendtner Perception More Than Welcome

We've also got a column in top local newspaper, The Durham Times you know. It comes out on a Friday in actual like, real life, and that, but we bring it to you on a Sunday.

Why's that the case? Well you should have either bought a copy by now for the princely sum of just 50p, available at all good newsagents and some bad ones. Or you could have headed over to The Durham Times' website and read it on Friday. Links are down the left of this site.

We'll let you off this week, just promise you'll do that next week OK? Good. Here's this week's column...

When you personalize a protective facemask, it's safe to say you have to have something about you to shield any criticism that may come your way. Thankfully, Nicklas Bendtner has something, although it has taken Sunderland fans a while to figure out what exactly.

As Sunderland prepares for the FA Cup Sixth Round clash with Everton, the main hope is that Bendtner is fit. Recent history at Goodison Park has been rather bleak, so travelling to Merseyside without an in-form striker would be far from ideal. To arrive at this situation is some turnaround from the Dane's start to life on Wearside - irrespective of Stephane Sessegnon's current suspension. After early frustrations, the general consensus amongst fans was that the view of Bendtner struggling in Arsenal's team was simply magnified, despite showing signs of being a highly useful forward player; although not the archetypal number nine that was hoped for.

Yet what strikes most about Bendtner is because of his tendencies to drop deep, or drift wide, it is often used as a stick to beat him with, when the real problem up until Martin O'Neill's arrival was that his team-mates seldom exploited the space temporarily vacated by Bendtner to attack the box. The 4-1 win over Wigan, just O'Neill's sixth game into his new tenure, was a prime example of how the masked enigma divides opinion. Heavily involved in an overbearing second half performance, many still bemoaned the fact that he wasn't in the box enough, or didn't do this or that, when his link-up play was the platform for counter-attacking a Wigan side that were put to the sword after half-time.

Slowly, the derision of Bendtner has eroded courtesy of hard work, portrayed best in the Tyne-Wear derby. When Bendtner arrived many feared his ego and supreme self-confidence yet his performances have shown a selfless side; he appears far more willing to create chances for others than possess the single-mindedness of, say, Djibril Cisse. In Sunderland's current counter-attacking system he is an effective pivot for a midfield with natural attacking tendencies. The fact that he has just as many assists as goals supports that, although it also reveals the root of the frustrations.

O'Neill this week commented on the change in his borrowed striker, stating: "You can have all the self-belief in the world but you need the ability to go with it. He has the ability and he's bought into the team ethos. Since I've known him over the last three months, he's actually concerned himself with the team and even more now since he's come back.

"He had a little spell out and might have realised then that the team has to come first."

The cynical will no doubt point to the fact that Bendtner is playing for a contract - be it at Sunderland or elsewhere - but it is encouraging to see that Bendtner is tilting the perception of him along the way. Having scored twice in as many games, the hope is that Bendtner can buck the trend of never being truly prolific and generate a run of goal scoring form. Whether or not Sunderland chooses to buy the frontman, the least he has done is bought his new manager some time.

Ahead of Saturday's game, Everton will be looking to get back on track following their midweek defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool whilst Sunderland will be looking to build on a win over the same opposition last time out.

The Toffees have been the more efficient side in the Cup so far, and having beaten Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham at home in recent weeks looks a formidable opponent.

The Black Cats will be buoyed be a near 6,000 travelling support and a performance akin to Sunderland's last outing away from home could well see them into the semi-finals for the first time since 2003. Lying in wait, however, is destroyer of dreams Tim Cahill who rather ominously has only scored once this season. There is no denying that revenge would be sweeter if accompanied with a Wembley appearance.

KARL JONES

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