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December - Where Sunderland Stand

It’s December, and Sunderland are fifteen league games into the season. Just twelve points on the board (three wins, three draws and nine losses) sees us sitting nineteenth in the Premier League table.

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Article by Ben Mummery

New manager Sam Allardyce has overseen seven of those league fixtures with a total of three wins and four losses equaling a win percentage of 42.86%.

A quick look at our last three league fixtures sees two wins and a loss, with four goals scored and three conceded, as well as two clean sheets.

So for the sake of this assessment of our current situation, we will focus on those same last three fixtures, as to go further back into the season would we feel be an unfair reflection of where our team sit at this current time.

It’s fair to say that Allardyce has had a noticeable impact on the side, so what are the key differences between Big Sam’s Sunderland and that of his predecessor?

After taking over, tyne-wear derby win aside (standard 3 points, nothing new there!), Sunderland took a little while to seemingly adjust to the new manager and what he was trying to indoctrinate into the group. A humiliating 6-2 thumping away to Everton had fans thinking little had changed, and that yet another manager had come into the club and looked to over complicate things, changing the shape of our team without the quality of player to do so. Allardyce played three central defenders while looking to employ our fullbacks as wing-backs, a tactic that drastically backfired. In all likelihood this had nothing to do with the manager’s ideas, rather the player’s inability to play the system set out for them!

However since the Everton game, in persisting with the three-at-the-back system, Sunderland look to have made the necessary adjustments to playing in this way. A difficult Monday night fixture at Selhurst Park saw few predicting points for the Black Cats, however we defended bravely against two very dangerous wingers, and were able to repeatedly spring Crystal Palace on the counter attack, resulting in a solitary Jermain Defoe goal sealing three vital points.

The same came at home the following weekend against a belligerent Stoke City, this time with the home support in our favor, we played the same system but with a little more freedom. When Stoke were rightly reduced to ten men, we were able to take advantage in the dying minutes and secure back to back wins.

Last weekend’s away fixture at the Emirates saw Arsenal just have a little bit too much quality for us, although few fans would disagree that our performance was of a good standard and were it not for missed chances in front of goal, we could well have come away with at least a point if not all three.

We can however quote stats and figures until we’re blue in the face – the only stats that matter are the goals column and the standings in the league table, and the unfortunate fact in all of this is that we’re still nineteenth, the same position as when Sam Allardyce took over as manager!

There is definitely cause for hope going forward, if the previous three performances are anything to go by, Sunderland fans can take a huge amount of encouragement from the indications that our side look so much more confident, so much more in control of what they’re doing on the pitch. Our defense has stopped leaking as many goals, and our forwards look like scoring goals. Even though we missed numerous chances against the Arsenal last Saturday, we were still creating chances – more than can be said of the final few games of Dick Advocaat’s reign!

The players finally seem to be playing for each other, they look like they have some hunger at last! Allardyce has got us doing the basics well, running around for each other, breaking our necks to get onto balls and make tackles. Basic defending is better, and fans can see all of this.

Players like Jermain Defoe, Patrick van Aanholt, Younes Kaboul, Steven Fletcher, Sebastian Coates and Billy Jones look re-invigorated, as though they’ve had an arm around their shoulder and a word in their ear telling them to be confident, play their game, do the things they do well and stop trying to do the things they can’t do.

There are still players in the group of whom the fans want to see more, and that definitely have more to offer. Adam Johnson is yet to kick into gear this season, as is Fabio Borini. Swedish International Ole Toivonen still has a point to prove, after a solid display in midfield against Arsenal, fans want to be assured he can do it week in, week out.

Allardyce has some options in the squad, but the January transfer window could be massive for us this season in terms of who we bring in and perhaps as importantly, who we do not bring in. Sunderland’s last few January windows have been a disaster, and managing to not upset the newly found balance of the team could be every bit as important as making sure we bring in the quality required from outside.

This weekend’s fixture against Watford will see us take on one of the three newly promoted sides of this campaign, and our record in recent years against premier league new boys has been woeful, with us having been soundly beaten by Bournemouth and Norwich already this term. Watford play with pace and purpose in attack, with strikers Ighalo and Deeney getting themselves in amongst the goals in recent weeks. Their defense however is not impenetrable, a performance like the home display against Stoke City could well be more than enough to see off the new boys, however this is the sort of fixture where Sunderland have to show the fans what they’re made of. You get the feeling that we don’t seem to perform until our backs are up against the wall when what we badly need is consistency. We want a team that plays with hunger and a desire to win every single week, and most fans may well agree that Watford at home in the league should be a bread and butter fixture for a club like ours.

So in summary – not much change in terms of our league standing, but plenty to be hopeful about. Confidence looks to be returning, goals have come, and cracks have been sealed over. Sunderland have what they need in place to achieve some solidarity, that at least is a start!

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