Attacking Potency - Anichebe The Hero Again
After the Bournemouth game most of us suspected that it would be a while before we saw another fantastic performance from Victor Anichebe.
Making his first home start, the Nigerian picked up from where he left off on the south coast by bullying defenders, expertly bringing others into play and thundering in another two goals. It was another man of the match display with both him and Jermain Defoe looking quite the potent partnership.
The movement between Anichebe and Defoe, along with Duncan Watmore, was just as fluid and dangerous as it was last time out. For Defoe’s landmark opener all three made vital contributions in the build up.
First, Anichebe holds it up and manages to pull a defender out of position, so by the time Billy Jones floats the ball to Duncan Watmore, the England Under 21 international has less pressure on him as flicks the ball on to Defoe. Because he’s not our sole attacking threat any more, Defoe has been able to drop deeper and pick up the ball in front of a nervous Hull defence, and those nerves became heightened as he started baring down on them. With Jason Denayer’s run also giving the opposition back line cause for concern, Defoe’s twisting and turning proved too much for the jaded Tigers defenders and he created the opening to lash in his 150th Premier League goal.
Sunderland's blueprint going forward was clear to see but Hull were powerless to stop it. Early in the second half and before the power cut, Jermain Defoe flicked on a Billy Jones cross which Duncan Watmore powerfully struck straight at David Marshall. When you watch that chance back, Defoe and Watmore have so much space and time in the box because three Hull players have had to go out wide to try and contain Anichebe. The presence of “Cheebs” was proving enough for Moyes’ men to create important chances.
After such brilliant work throughout the game, Big Vic deserved his brace. The final goal was particularly pleasing and had shades of his strike at Bournemouth - he was found by Defoe after picking up the ball outside the penalty area, and with one touch rifled the ball in off the inside of the post. Beautiful.
This team still has its flaws and we need to accentuate our positives to cover up our inadequacies, but if Defoe and Anichebe can keep combining like they did this weekend it will go a long way to aiding the Sunderland recovery.
No Need For Keep Ball - Quick Forward Play Suits Our Side
Early in the game Sunderland were looking to keep the ball as much as possible. David Moyes seemed to have instructed his players to play neat and tidy football and at a fairly slow pace. It was quite strange to see, given that you can’t really say anyone who started the game is a brilliant passer of the ball. Sure, Jason Denayer is fairly handy, but Sunderland aren’t a team capable of hurting the opposition by playing in that style.
Hull were the brighter of the two teams in the first twenty minutes and it was mainly because Sunderland looked shackled by their instruction to not play directly.
With a target man like Anichebe, a poacher like Defoe and pace given to you by the likes of Watmore and Van Aanholt, The Lads had to switch to a more direct style of play. Once they did, Hull looked uneasy defensively.
As already mentioned, Anichebe sheer presence dragged the Hull defenders out of their positions so when he had the ball, Sunderland’s runners could exploit the space. There were examples of that in our goals but it was also evident in other chances that we created. When Anichebe took the ball wide after a Didier Ndong pass, Billy Jones made a darting run into the box and it took a good block from Michael Dawson to stop him from finding the target. That was one of a few instances where Sunderland pressed higher up the field and almost scored because of it, and seeing players other than Defoe exploit the gaps created by Anichebe was very pleasing indeed.
Slow possession based play is fine, providing you have the players to do it. Sunderland don’t, though. What we do have is a group who can cause teams damage when they break at pace and get the ball to their strikers as quickly as possible.
We have to play to our strengths, and that means we need to keep being direct.
A Clean Sheet - Get The Rave On!
Jordan Pickford finally picked up his first Premier League clean sheet on Saturday - two absolutely brilliant saves in the second half from the England goalkeeper meant that he could ride long into the night in his Vauxhall Corsa blasting Monkey tunes knowing that, in his mind, he had played fantastic that day for Sunderland.
The first one, from a Robert Snodgrass overhead kick, looked set to loop in over Pickford's head to give the away team a much needed lifeline, but the young stopper was on hand to turn it over the bar and away from danger.
The save he made from Curtis Davies' header, however, was breathtaking. It was a stop that Pickford had no right to make, getting down well to parry the ball in to such an awkward position. Patrick van Aanholt made sure that his hard work wasn’t for nothing, as he kept Hull out with two quick-fire goal line clearances.
It wasn’t just goal line clearances from Van Aanholt though - the left back was in a confident mood and caused many problems going forward.
It was his run across the opposition box that saw him find Anichebe for the second goal of the afternoon.
Things were just as peachy on the right of defence too, with Billy Jones continuing his rich vein of form. Even in the defeat to Arsenal Jones was impressive and he’s gone from strength to strength in the following games. Jones made four tackles - the most made by any player on the pitch - and Hull were often thwarted down our right-hand side.
It’s hard to see Javier Manquillo getting back into the starting eleven at the moment. Since Anichebe and Watmore tend to cut inside, the full backs needed to provide width for Sunderland - both Van Aanholt and Jones did that very well.
Papy Djilobodji was the better of the two central Sunderland defenders and it was a shame that he got himself needlessly sent off. He can’t have any complaints for his dismissal, it was a silly challenge to make when already on a booking, so let’s hope it doesn’t damage his confidence too much.
Making four blocks, including an excellent one in the second half when he appeared from no where, he’s positioning himself well to make challenges when required but he needs to cut out the silly mistakes. If he can just keep his head for ninety minutes, we may be onto something with the Senegalese defender.
Denayer Impersonates Kirchhoff As He Runs The Midfield
The other stand out performance in red and white came from Jason Denayer.
Much like Jan Kirchhoff last season, Denayer guarded the back four and was a calming influence when in possession. Given Kirchhoff’s injury record, David Moyes will need another option in the deep lying midfield role and he looks he’s found someone to fill the void.
Along with Paddy McNair, the Manchester City loanee made three tackles as Hull found it difficult to penetrate Sunderland through the middle. Denayer was also a good influence in trying to force Sunderland further up the pitch by bringing the ball forward, completing a couple of dribbles - more than any of his team mates.
We saw him come off the bench away to Bournemouth to play a similar role, albeit in a midfield four given Steven Pienaar’s dismissal. In that match, Denayer never stopped pressing the ball and chased everything down, something he did excellently again against Hull.
Given that Denayer is six foot tall, it’s no great surprise that David Moyes perhaps sees Denayer’s future in the midfield. Only the very best centre halves can get away with being that bit shorter, and given his inexperience it's difficult to see Denayer playing in a back four regularly this season.
What he does have, though, is a superb first touch, tons of energy, good passing ability and a fearless approach to tackling. There’s certainly the attributes there to mould him into a good defensive midfielder and while he may only be on Wearside for a season, let’s hope that come next May we’ll be gutted to see him go.