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Talking Tactics: How Sunderland’s solid defensive improvement is keeping promotion dream alive

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Sunderland don’t have to blow teams away every week, not if their defence remain as solid and as compact as they have done in recent games. Promoted sides always have strong foundations - question is, can we keep it up?

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Solid defensive foundations

Over Sunderland's recent weeks of improved performances, the most obvious ones have come in the attacking intent shown from Phil Parkinson's side. However, a part of Sunderland's game which has been improving ever since the former Bolton manager stepped through the door has been the defence - the solid foundation which all (or at least most) successful sides are built on.

These foundations may not seem to matter much when the score is 4-0, such as last weekend against Wycombe, however Sunderland's solid defence became imperative this weekend as Sunderland were poor on the ball and struggled to get into the attacking rhythm which saw them go three-up inside half an hour last weekend.

Part of this decrease in attacking output from Sunderland does seem to have been by design rather than merely a result of an off-day by some of Sunderland's forward players. Sunderland were willing to accept having less possession than the hosts, and Jordan Willis played the role of a standard centre back rather than the overlapping player he became against Wycombe.

This meant that Sunderland showed they haven't lost their ability to defend as a back five, in a more traditional sense. Rather than relying on their high-intensity pressing up the pitch to avoid their centre backs being forced to defend one-on-one with opposing attackers - and with the hosts' being allowed only one shot on target, it is clear that Sunderland's defence remains one of the side's strengths.

Alim Ozturk - such a good defender, he does his job for the opposition aswell
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Set pieces, or a bit of magic

As mentioned above, Sunderland's attacking play was far less fluid and sharp than has been the case in their last few comfortable home wins. However, that didn't mean they failed to offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, thanks mainly to following the textbook away performance mantra of 'keep it tight at the back and hope for a set piece goal or a bit of magic' and Sunderland's best chances - and indeed their winning goal - came from exactly these kinds of opportunities.

In the first half especially, where Sunderland failed to get any attacking combinations flowing, they nevertheless should have gone in at half time one goal to the good - with Alim Ozturk missing an open goal from a set piece.

This trend continued in the second half as Ozturk (again) and O'Nien both missed good chances from set pieces. It's amazing to see that the same side that failed to score from a single corner until February last season are now looking a threat each and every time the ball goes in the box. It's almost as if having players over 6ft helps with this - who knew!

However, all this talk of creating good openings from set pieces seems to have passed Lynden Gooch by, and in all honesty there can't be a much better way to win a game than the 79th minute moment of magic which turned 1 point into 3.

This Sunderland side is made of stern stuff, and is looking more and more likely of having a successful season with each passing game as they continue to answer the questions put before them.

A moment of magic
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images