This weeks Durham Times column was written by Rory Fallow and was first published in the newspaper this week
The game is level, it’s early in the second half and the opposition have just gone down to ten men. This should be a cue for most Premier League sides to take control of the game and take all three points. Sunderland don’t do that though. Instead we end up looking like the team missing a player, get dominated and by the final whistle we’re happy to get away with a 0-0 draw.
Obviously i’m not talking about Saturdays win over Stoke City. Instead i’m remembering a game that most of us have forgot, away to Aston Villa last season. Fabian Delph, much like Ryan Shawcross on Saturday, was dismissed early into the second half but Gus Poyets side struggled to create any real chances and were largely outplayed by The Villains. Thankfully the home side were just as bad as us and both teams felt half relieved/half embarrassed come full time.
The only similarity Sunderland should have felt on Saturday, compared to that cold December afternoon last year though, was the frostbiting temperatures.
Like Sunderland would do under Poyet, Sam Allardyce had set up his team to frustrate a more than capable Stoke City side. But unlike the talismanic Uruguayan, Big Sam knew how to get the three points out of the situation. Not long after Shawcross was given his marching orders Allardyce let the Stadium of Light crowd know that if the game stayed level, it wouldn’t be for the want of trying. The solid and reliable Seb Larsson was taken off for the flair and frustration of Jeremain Lens. The Dutchman was anything but frustrating though and not only did he put the graft that Allardyce had been demanding from him, he was unlucky not to set up goals for Yann M’Vila and Sebastian Coates.
With the game still level, with Stoke now sitting even deeper and with fifteen minutes to go, Sam Allardyce gave the biggest “sod this, we’re going for it” yet by bringing on Adam Johnson for John O’Shea. Like Lens, Johnson made his presence felt by getting fouled for the free kick which allowed him to then roll the ball Patrick Van Aanholt who fired past Jack Butland for the first goal of the afternoon. Big Sam was delighted on the touchline, knowing his nous and intuition had been a major factor in putting us in front.
This isn’t to dismiss all of Allardyce’s decisions as heat of the moment though, you do get a real sense of every situation and eventuality being planned for. This planning and foresight saw us get two goals in the last ten minutes to turn a potential 0-0 draw into a great 2-0 win. A win from the kind of game that we didn’t win last season. A game that last season would have been added to the endless list of draws that almost saw us relegated.
To go back to that between Christmas and New Year bout against Aston Villa, they were able to turn to a young hungry talent on the bench to whip the crowd up and provide a much needed injection of energy into the team. A young, enthusiastic and not-hungover Jack Grealish was unleashed from the sidelines and caused problems down the left hand side to a largely bamboozled Sunderland defence. Looking at our bench that day, we had Jozy Altidore. But almost a year later, we’re able to bring on Duncan Watmore whose pace, trickery and endeavour was one of the key components to the victory and boy did he deserve his goal. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have Grealish’s penchant for Manchester nightclubs.
Instead of Dick Advocaat’s gung-ho attitude or Poyet’s philosophy of keeping it tight and hoping to squeeze something out of the game, Sam Allardyce has perfectly executed a game plan into a solid win. This isn’t to be disparaging to Poyet or Advocaat either, I still like them both, but Allardyce has shown twice in one week why he is what we need right now.
Sunderland fans know as much as anyone that we can’t get carried away with new managers but that’s the type of win we haven’t been able to achieve in a long time.