I’m still in shock. Sunderland didn’t just have an answer to every Crystal Palace question, they bamboozled The Eagles with a cascade of conundrums. There’s so much to go through and, for a delightful change, it’s all positive. So let’s dive right in.
The Line Up & Opening Clashes
The 3-5-2 which worked so well against Tottenham was tweaked slightly, as David Moyes made minimal changes for the game against a Crystal Palace side led by Sunderland’s former manager.
Bryan Oviedo came in to make his debut at the expense of Javier Manquillo, meaning the defence would be more balanced, due to every player playing in their natural position. Taking the place of Fabio Borini, Adnan Januzaj would play just behind Jermain Defoe, meaning the midfield and attack would have a much clearer link, rather than two strikers attempting to feed off long balls. So rather than a straight 3-5-2, The Black Cats had the shape of a 5-3-1-1 when defending, which would quickly change to a 3-5-1-1 when attacking, due to the advancing full backs.
The match at Selhurst was frantic from the start. It was typified by Sebastian Larsson getting booked in the opening five minutes after colliding with Wilfried Zaha, not long after he’d forced Yohan Cabaye off the pitch after catching him in a 50-50. Call him stupid for getting such an early booking if you like but I’d prefer to look upon it positively and offer the opinion that he was simply channeling Lee Cattermole. After Larsson received his final warning, for fouling Zaha again, the blue eyed Swede never put a foot wrong. It was enough to rattle the often enigmatic Zaha, who also had to put up with constantly being frustrated by Bryan Oviedo (more on him later) and the winger’s afternoon was pretty much over before it had even started.
Goals, Goals, Goals, Goals!
It was through Larsson where Sunderland would also open the scoring. A free kick was floated in after Adnan Januzaj had been fouled and Lamine Kone found the far corner, despite being off balance for the entirety of his effort. It was a simple enough ball to defend, from a Palace perspective and certainly should have been dealt with after Kone won the initial header. Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was beaten to the ball by Billy Jones however and Kone profited from the mistake - shocking organisation from the hosts, and The Lads took full advantage.
It wasn’t totally straight forward from then on, though. Palace dominated possession and had five shots on goal before Sunderland doubled their lead. In fairness to Sunderland though, they dealt with Crystal Palace’s aerial threat rather astutely as Sam Allardyce instructed his team to get everything to Christian Benteke’s bonce. While David Moyes was happy for his team to concede to Benteke in the air, on occasion, it was picking up the second ball where Sunderland were ruthless. Nothing Benteke nodded down came to anything in this period and even when it looked dangerous, the likes of John O’Shea, Jason Denayer and Kone were there to challenge the Palace frontman.
The only real opportunity for Allardyce’s side came when James Tomkins headed wide from a mere three yards out, with twenty on the clock. After that though, they failed to trouble Vito Mannone and Didier Ndong made them pay.
There was so much to be pleased about with Ndong’s goal.
First of all, he reads the situation perfectly as he sees Damian Delaney nodding the ball to Joe Ledley and Ndong is there straight away to put Welsh midfielder under pressure. Once he’s onto Ledley, Ndong picks his pocket and has clear run towards goal and the back four. Delaney is no where near him, Tomkins & Ward have to go with Defoe, so there’s only Scott Dann standing in Ndong’s way.
A despairing lunge is all Dann can do to try and block the Gabonese maestro’s shot, which satisfyingly thwacks the post on its way in.
Then things went really crazy.
Twice in two minutes, Adnan Januzaj linked up with Jermain Defoe to put Sunderland 4-0 up at half time. Defoe’s first was an excellent counter attack, in a move where Sunderland went from regaining possession in their final third, to putting the ball in the net, in 18 seconds. As soon as Larsson released Januzaj down the left, the hapless Palace defence was in trouble, as the Belgian international drew in Tomkins and Defoe darted into the vacated space.
All Januzaj had to down was play in Defoe and that was it - a brilliantly placed finish went through the legs of Dann, past Hennessey and Palace were done.
This was a Sunderland side in a ruthless mood and cruelty was on their minds after having this kind of pain inflicted on them all too often.
Just like he’d done for the third, Bryan Oviedo won the ball back for Sunderland and the ball made its way to Januzaj, via Ndong. Januzaj once again showed the psychic level he and Defoe were operating on, playing a perfectly weighted, inch perfect pass, that went past Patrick van Aanholt and Scott Dann like it was the wrong bus. Defoe hopped on it though, rolled Tomkins and sent many Palace fans home early with his second and Sunderland’s fourth. Half time and The Black Cats were in dreamland.
Seeing It Out With Minimal Fuss
After that whirlwind, the second half was pretty routine. Crystal Palace huffed and puffed but struggled to find a break through. The only idea the hosts seemed to have was to get the ball to substitute Andros Townsend, but his crosses were either blocked by Billy Jones or easily cleared by the centre halves, which now included Joleon Lescott who replaced an injured John O’Shea.
It’s rather amusing to read that The Lads made 54 clearances to Palace’s 5, showing a big distinction in how wasteful the home side were in their possession and how futile it proved to be in trying to break Sunderland down by just pumping the ball into the box. It also showed the differences in both teams attacking approach, as Sunderland tried to primarily play through the middle and use their pace to exploit the slower Crystal Palace defence. While Sunderland played to Palace’s weaknesses, the opposition played to The Black Cats strengths by lumping long balls up to a centre half trio who are more than adept in the air.
Townsend was attacking Sunderland’s right hand side, while The Eagles ignored the left. A superb debut from Bryan Oviedo had led to Zaha becoming totally nullified and the second half tactics from Palace was an admission of defeat on that flank. Oviedo made more tackles than any other Premier League player on Saturday, with 9*, something totally alien to his predecessor who had to watch on and take in the jeers from the away end. It wasn’t just rearguard action from Oviedo though, he pressed well and made tackles in good areas and it was that pressing which created the fourth goal. A good all round performance from the new defender and, on the evidence from this game, Sunderland look like they’ve done a great piece of business.
Using This Result As A Springboard
Like most supporters, I’ve often been critical of David Moyes but this was a day where he got everything right. The defensive cohesion in the side was just as good as it was against Spurs and in that aspect, it looked like a team who’ve been playing together for years. The understanding between all the players was just as clear when the team went forward, as they broke quickly with the minimal amount of touches possible. Good coaching and work on the training ground gets you results such as this and if The Lads go about their business in this manner for the rest of the campaign, they might find a way out of the woods.
It is now becoming evident that Sunderland have a very good spine emerging in the team. We’ve known for ages that Jermain Defoe is the jewel in the red and white crown, but with Lamine Kone looking more like the man of last season and Didier Ndong blossoming, Defoe is backed up by quality in key areas.
Losing Kone and Ndong to The African Cup Of Nations was always going to be disruptive but the last two games have shown that it was probably underestimated just how much disruption that would cause, no matter how big a fan you are of either player. Kone has almost single-handedly made the centre of defence look more reassured and strong, while Ndong has given the midfield a calm head on the ball, an outstanding ability to win it back and an enormous amount of energy. Basically, it’s everything that was lacking against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion and you wonder if those collapses would have happened with our African stars on the field. Building the team around the Defoe, Ndong and Kone has to be the priority for David Moyes going forward - and hopefully they won’t succumb to the Wearside injury curse.
There was a lot of worry that a lack of target man would lead to Defoe’s chances drying up but after Januzaj assisted him twice, they need to be given run of games playing together. The relationship between the two looked effortless at times, at Selhurst Park and perhaps we’ve found an alternative way of supplying the talisman.
This was a huge win and it could prove to be even bigger than three points.
*WhoScored have Oviedo down as making 9 tackles, while Squawka dispute this with 7. We’re giving him the benefit of the doubt though.