The Key To Becoming VICTORious
There’s only one place to begin and that’s with Big Victor Anichebe.
On his first Premier League start for Sunderland, he provided the outlet for all of their attacking play and the Bournemouth defenders didn’t know how to deal with him. Every time the likes of Simon Francis and Adam Smith tried to get the better of Anichebe, they just bounced off him. Not even a cracked rib could debilitate the Nigerian international.
Heatmaps are usually pretty lame but Anichebe’s is quite interesting to look at. It shows that he spent most of his time out wide on the left, just inside the Bournemouth half. Operating in this area meant defenders were dragged out of their positions and space was opened up for other players, in other parts of the pitch. For the first time in weeks, Jermain Defoe wasn’t left isolated up front and the opposition had more than one striker to try and keep quiet. It worked brilliantly, with players pushing on once Big Vic got the ball and there was a genuine, dangerous, threat to Sunderland’s attacking play.
The equaliser was especially pleasing. Defoe, being allowed to drop deep in this move due to another striker taking some of the burden off his shoulders, was able to play the ball into Anichebe’s feet inside the box. By getting in front of Simon Francis, Anichebe had confidence in his strength to hold off the defender and the turn put Francis on his backside. The shot was just as powerful as the player himself and Artur Boruc was left with no chance. A darting run into the penalty area to win the spot kick showed there was more to the former Everton man than hold up play and Victor’s work was done. All that was left was to do was let a few more defenders ricochet off him in front of the travelling Sunderland supporters, as the final whistle went.
We won’t get ahead of ourselves and expect such fantastic performances every week from Anichebe, but if he can keep annoying defenders, bringing others into play and providing an outlet for Sunderland, he could be a very valuable asset.
Much More Fluidity
I’ve often been critical of how rigidly Sunderland have set up this season, at Bournemouth though the shackles looked to have been thrown off. The outlet of Victor Anichebe meant Sunderland didn’t have to try and build up slowly and could be more direct in their play. As already mentioned, Anichebe was often taking two defenders with him, wherever he was on the pitch, so other players such as Jermain Defoe, Steven Pienaar and even the full backs, Patrick van Aanholt and Billy Jones, could move into the vacated space.
The best of example of Sunderland’s more flowing play didn’t come from one of their goals, but the one which was disallowed. Duncan Watmore, who worked tirelessly up and down the right wing all afternoon, mistimed his run as the assistant referee raised his flag after he connected with Billy Jones’ cross.
The move began with Watmore robbing Harry Arter of the ball on the edge of the Sunderland box and recovered well from a challenge to give possession to Jones. Just like he did for The Black Cats first goal, Defoe dropped deeper and Jones found him with space to turn, just inside the Bournemouth half. The ball was quickly played to Anichebe and two Bournemouth defenders immediately went to hunt down the towering colossus but to no avail. Continuing his run down the right, Jones was in acres of space and his cross to Watmore was a good one, if only the run had been timed just a second better. Regardless, Sunderland’s quick, free flowing, counter attack left Bournemouth chasing shadows and unable to regain possession.
More of the same please.
Sunderland Made The Game A Battle & They Won The Fight
We’ve bemoaned the lack of fight in this Sunderland side but the players left everything on the pitch at The Vitality Stadium.
Finally - a game where Moyes boys made more tackles, dispossessed the opposition more often and won more challenges in the air.
Against such an organised side, we had to put them under pressure and not give them time to play their game. Bournemouth were dispossessed 15 times during the match with central players Jack Wilshere, Harry Arter, Dan Gosling and substitute Ryan Fraser accounting for 7 of those. It proves that Sunderland’s pressing and tackling from players such as Didier Ndong, who had his best game since his arrival on Wearside, was very effective and had a great impact on them winning the game.
At the back, there was also a much needed improvement in performance from Papy Djilobodji. Having struggled for form, it was pleasing to see Djilobodji as the more commanding of the central defenders, winning four aerial duels (second only to Anichebe) and making three interceptions. Picking his moments wisely, Papy wasn’t charging into any rash challenges and read the game well through out, keeping his play simple and knowing when to just get rid of the ball. If Lamine Kone can rediscover some desire then that elusive clean sheet may come against fellow strugglers, Hull City.
It Wasn’t A Fluke, This Was A Deserved Win
Even when behind early in the game, Sunderland never looked like being put to the sword. You would have expected them to do what they have for most of the season and crumble but Sunderland stood firm and stuck to their game plan.
Look at the first 58 minutes of the game, before Steven Pienaar was sent off.
Bournemouth played their usual game of trying to control the game through the majority of possession, so it was all about Sunderland making the most of their time on the ball, something they have failed to do too often this campaign.
When it was 11 v 11, Sunderland had the same amount of shots as the home side and only a marginally less successful pass completion percentage. The latter is understandable though, given The Cherries played short simple passes and Sunderland were attempting to be more direct.
They were pressuring the Bournemouth players, dispossessing them on 9 occasions during this period, while making 11 tackles and winning 9 battles in the air. It’s been a real bugbear of mine lately that we’ve failed to make more tackles than the opposition lately, given we play the majority of games without the ball. To finally see the lads step up and not give the other team a moments rest was great.
It’s a simple thing but it has to be the blueprint going forward - make up for any inadequacies there is in the team by working hard, making tackles and frustrating the opposition.
There was a lot of pressure put on the defence after the sending off, of course, as Sunderland were forced to sit deeper and protect their lead. Everyone seemed to know their role though and everyone did their job. It was probably best personified by Jason Denayer who came off the bench to just work hard off the ball and close down any potential Bournemouth opportunities. You can tell that Denayer was given the remit of “just close things down” due to the fact that he only made 9 touches, which is fine if he’s on the pitch to just make sure Bournemouth can’t work the ball into the box.
I mentioned Billy Jones’ play going forward earlier but defensively he was first class. So good in the first half, in fact, that he forced the substitution of Jordan Ibe at half time. In a game where Sunderland were out to stop Bournemouth from playing, Jones was superb making 4 interceptions, the joint highest amount of tackles with 3 and was up and down the pitch all afternoon. We know Jones is certainly a limited player but that’s a great example of hard work hiding any limitations.
A player who looks limitless at the moment though, is Jordan Pickford. Outstanding all afternoon and although a clean sheet may still elude him, the saves he made were worthy of one. If Victor Anichebe was the hero going forward, Pickford was the superstar at the back with six saves, including clawing one right out of the top corner. It was a save he had no right to make and no one would have complained had it gone in. That’s what the ultra confident youngster does though and it wasn’t the only instance at Dean Court. There were two occasions where the England Under 21 stopper got off his line to narrow the strikers angle and came out on top. The save out of the top corner may have had an element of luck to it but not the others, they were down to pure ability.
It’s a deserved win for Sunderland and they finally have a platform to build upon. If they can keep to a similar sort of plan next time out, things may just start to be looking up. There’s a long way to go and it’s still going to be a hard season but, for now at least, Sunderland look like they have an effective game plan for getting forward and halting the opposition.