THE INSIDE TRACK: Sunderland

By SFC Media time Wed 02 Mar Club

Ahead of Sunderland's visit on Saturday, we got the lowdown on the Black Cats from Sunderland Echo reporter Chris Young.

What’s Sunderland’s form like at the moment?

Tuesday night (a 2-2 home draw with Crystal Palace) was one where they really needed to come away with a win. At the start of the week, Allardyce said they needed to take four points from the three games. They lost at West Ham on Saturday, then looked good for an hour on Tuesday, but as soon as Palace equalised they imploded. I think psychologically if they had lost it would have been a long, long way back for Sunderland then. At least a draw gives them a bit of hope and moves them out of the bottom three temporarily.

How is the team playing right now?

It’s been much better since the January window. Allardyce brought in five players, although realistically it’s four, as Steve Harper came in as third-choice keeper, but all four have started the last three games and three of them certainly have made a big, big impression – [Lamine] Koné, [Wahbi] Khazri and [Jan] Kirchhoff. They’re playing a lot better, but they’re not getting the points that they need really. They should have got a draw minimum at West Ham on Saturday and, as I say, they were cruising for an hour against Palace. The big problem is they keep conceding goals.

Is the approach different away from home?

Not necessarily. They’ve tended to be a bit more defensive-minded away from home, because the majority of their points this season have come at home. Allardyce’s main focus is on keeping clean sheets at all costs, because they haven’t had one since November and that’s what’s killing their prospects of staying in the league.

Everyone obviously remembers the 8-0 from last season. Is that result on the minds of Sunderland’s players ahead of this Saturday?

Looking at the probable team that could start, there could only be three people in it who were involved in the 8-0, so it won’t necessarily be a factor. I think the one it will play on the most is the goalkeeper, Vito Mannone, who obviously conceded eight and then did the gesture about reimbursing the fans afterwards. He lost his place the week after, after a 2-0 defeat against Arsenal, then he’s only really just got it back in the last couple of months under Allardyce. He’ll be the one that’s probably most determined to put it right, but, as I say, because there’s been so many changes to the team it’s not necessarily a result that will be much of a factor.

Who are Sunderland's key men at the moment?

The January signings really. Koné is a big, hard centre-half. Kirchhoff had a nightmare debut at Spurs, but he’d hardly played a game in a season or so – I think he had one sub appearance for Bayern Munich before he joined – and since that he’s been excellent. He controls things just in front of the back four, and then Khazri’s a livewire out wide. Very good on the ball, good touch and a threat from set-pieces. Then, obviously, Jermain Defoe’s the one they’re relying on to score the goals.

What sort of a game are you expecting?

Allardyce said he wanted four points from these three games and he changed his tune a bit after the game on Tuesday, and said he’d probably take a point at Southampton now, even if it meant missing out on that target. I think first and foremost Allardyce will be looking for a clean sheet, but Sunderland aren’t really capable of getting one, so they might have to go a bit more attack-minded. But I suppose it will be interesting to see how Southampton react after the back-to-back defeats now – Sunderland might sense a bit of vulnerability there now.

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