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Talking Tactics: Crystal Palace (A) - Heroes Dressed in White

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Steven Fletcher scored twice as Sunderland beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.

Clive Rose

Line up

Gus Poyet made four changes to the side that was beaten 2-0 by Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.

Costel Pantilimon was handed his Premier League debut for the club replacing a confidence stricken Vito Mannone, while new signing Anthony Reveilerre was also given his Sunderland debut.

Jordi Gomez returned to the side with Jack Rodwell missing through injury, and Connor Wickham was preferred to Adam Johnson on the left-hand side of midfield.

Sunderland lined up in their usual 4-1-4-1 formation.

Opposition

Neil Warnock made only one change to the side that drew 2-2 with West Bromwich Albion last weekend.

Scott Dann was welcomed back from a knee injury, and the 27-year-old returned to the heart of the defence to partner Brede Haneland.

James McCarthur also passed a late fitness test, but the midfielder was forced to settle for a place among the substitutes.

Former Sunderland striker Frazier Campbell led the line for the Eagles.

Crystal Palace set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

safc v cpfc line ups

Approach

In the run up to the game Gus Poyet spoke about a need to get "back to basics" and to ensure that the side did not defend like they did away at Southampton, and this will no doubt have formed the basis of the Sunderland manager’s preparations in training ahead of the trip to Crystal Palace.

Sunderland were the masters of their own undoing in the defeat to Arsenal, but aside from the two glaring errors actually defended quite well on the day. It was important that the 46-year-old manager instilled some confidence back into his players, and left out those who he felt needed a break from the pressure.

Prior to this fixture Sunderland had been having a tough time in front of goal and had failed to find the net in their previous two outings. For the Black Cats to achieve a positive result at Selhurst Park, it was vital that they remained tight at their own end and took any clear cut chances that came their way at the other.

Execution

Sunderland almost found themselves in big trouble in the opening minute. The Black Cats were opened up far too easily by a lofted clearance up-field, and Frazier Campbell was scythed down by Santiago Vergini inside the penalty area as he went one-one-one with Costel Pantilimon. The tackle from the Argentinian was clumsy, but somehow escaped punishment. A huge let-off early on, and not the positive start Gus Poyet will have wanted from his side.

As the game began to progress, Sunderland seemed unsure of whether they were to press high without the ball or retreat and defend inside their own half. There seemed to be some inconsistency in their approach without possession, and they looked a little disjointed at times. Crystal Palace were exerting a large amount of pressure early on, but the Black Cats looked fairly comfortable limiting the Eagles to set pieces opportunities which they dealt with very well.

It became clear that Poyet had instructed his side to sit deep and maintain a compact and resilient shape defensively, and this is something the Black Cats managed to do all game following a shaky start. In turn, Crystal Palace were never really allowed to get in behind the Sunderland defence, and subsequently Neil Warnock’s main attacking threats were nullified for most of the 90 minutes.

In the 31st minute Sunderland took the lead. Steven Fletcher netted a tidy header following a well lifted cross from Patrick Van Aanholt, but it was the intelligence of movement in the final third that made the goal - and it is something the Black Cats have been lacking for weeks. For Fletcher to be effective, he needs to be given chances on a plate – he isn’t going to make them himself. Van Aanholt’s overlapping run and the support from Jordi Gomez worked the space to make the chance for Sunderland, and although the Black Cats were helped by some poor defensive organisation from Crystal Palace, don’t take anything away from Poyet’s men – it was a good goal.

Sunderland remained deep and compact after taking the lead, and didn’t allow Crystal Palace any real goal-scoring chances.

One of the reasons the Black Cats were being able to neutralise Palace so successfully was the clever use of Lee Cattermole when defending goal-kicks or long range set pieces aimed towards the Sunderland box. Poyet had clearly instructed Cattermole to take up a position directly in front of Marouane Chamakh on each occasion where the Moroccan’s aerial ability could have been utilised. The aim wasn’t to beat Chamakh in the air – as Lee Cattermole does not possess the tools to do so – but to act as a screen and make it difficult for Palace to utilise the forward’s aerial ability. On the most part Lee Cattermole put in a poor performance on the night, he made some rash challenges and his passing (particularly forward passing) was desperately poor, however the 26-year-old fulfilled this particular task very well, and it relieved the pressure for Sunderland’s central defenders.

Cattermole forward passing

Early in the second half Crystal Palace drew level, and Sunderland had been given a prior warning before conceding the goal. A quickly taken free-kick led to a shot on goal from Wilfried Zaha, but the Black Cats didn’t learn their lesson and this time after another lapse in concentration this time from a corner – the Eagles had scored. Costel Pantilimon made what has to be one of the saves of the season from Marouane Chamakh, but there was nothing he could do about the rebound from Frazier Campbell which was diverted into his own net by an unfortunate Wes Brown. A potentially avoidable goal for Sunderland to concede, they had been dealing with set pieces well but were made to pay for switching off defensively.

Poyet’s side reacted well to conceding the goal. They remained calm and withstood the inevitable five minutes of pressure from the home side after they had levelled the game.

Sunderland regained the lead thanks to a well taken finish from Jordi Gomez. Once again, it was some inelegant movement in the final third that made the chance. This time, a clever and selfless run from deep by Sebastian Larsson to grab the attention of the Palace defence left Gomez in acres of space to fire home a measured finish following a good pass from Will Buckley.

Moments after Sunderland went ahead Crystal Palace went down to 10 men, and from there Poyet’s side fully controlled the closing exchanges. Steven Fletcher finished off the home side with his second goal of the night after some industrious work from Liam Bridcutt, and the three points were Sunderland’s.

A fine night for Steven Fletcher, he was granted a lot more support tonight, and in turn his link up play was the best it has been all season. He didn’t win a great deal of his aerial duels, but his close passing and distribution to the midfield was noticeably better than it has been in recent weeks, and he was drawing plenty of fouls to slow the game down where it mattered.

Fletcher link up

Conclusion

Better sides than Sunderland will go to Selhurst Park and lose this season, so a huge result at a vital time for the Black Cats, and plenty to be encouraged about regarding the performance.

Poyet will be pleased with how his side defended over the course of 90 minutes. There were of course one or two lapses in concentration, one of which led to a goal, but Sunderland were never going to put in a completely perfect performance - especially away from home.

Going forward the Black Cats finally demonstrated some ideas and some fluency, and finished their chances with an amount of ruthlessness. There’s no doubt that Poyet will have urged his midfield to offer more help to the lone striker, and there was enough there to aid Fletcher when he found himself in goal-scoring positions.

The presence of Jordi Gomez in midfield adds a real scoring threat to the team. With Gomez in the team you certainly sacrifice an element of defensive protection in the middle of the park, but the Spaniard likes to dwell in goal-scoring positions in and around the penalty area, and his cultured left-foot can hurt teams – as we saw on Monday.

Sunderland were forced to re-shuffle the defence as Partrick Van Aanholt was stretchered off, but managed ok with their makeshift back-line. Anthony Reveillere put in a really solid display, and as far as debuts go, you won’t see many better than that. Santiago Vergini has had a difficult few weeks, and he is completely out of his depth at right-back, but I think the Argentinian has to be awarded some sympathy for filling in in a position that is clearly alien to him.

A notably fine Premier League debut from Costel Pantilimon, and aside from Steven Fletcher, Sebastian Larsson was my man-of-the-match this week. He read the game well, and his work-rate going both forward and back was exceptional.

All in all, a great night for Sunderland and for Gus Poyet. Onwards and upwards, a result next weekend against Everton would be a great way to head into the international break.