Sunderland finally moved out of the relegation zone following a well-earned goalless draw against Arsenal at the Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon, and the Black Cats now have their destiny in their hands. Under manager Sam Allardyce they look on course for survival, but it’s been far from a walk in the park.
Sunderland had a porous defence to mend
When Allardyce took charge in October, he endured a barren run of form after picking up points early on. A promising start of three wins from five games saw Sunderland quadruple their points tally in a matter of weeks, but they suffered a five-game losing streak which left them 19th in the division with 12 points from 19 games.
The Black Cats looked down and out with such a paltry tally going into the New Year, but have finally started performing like a Sam Allardyce side should. The experienced manager is known for his work transforming teams into being more defensively resilient to grind out narrow victories.
Allardyce has made Sunderland hard to break down
He had his work cut out when taking the job with a lack of quality upon his arrival, but shrewd January signings have now seen Sunderland as favourites to stay up. In 2016, the North-East outfit have suffered only four defeats from 15 games, which is a return matched by the likes of Southampton, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.
Sunderland have conceded less goals this year than West Ham United, Everton, Liverpool and eight other clubs. Prior to Allardyce’s arrival, Sunderland were winless in the league and had the worst defensive record, but now they are mirroring exactly how their manager has been setting them up to perform. The Black Cats are the form side in the race for survival too which may see them seal the coveted 17th place come May.
Tireless training ground work shouldn’t go unnoticed
One win and five draws from their last seven games is much more symptomatic of the work the squad undertake in training, working on defensive shape and stifling the opposition. Sunderland aren’t blessed with a wide variety of goalscorers so when they can get ahead in games, they hold onto narrow leads for long periods. Such a tactic is working for the Black Cats with three clean sheets from their last four.
Their only defeats this year have come from the Premier League’s top-six, which is certainly no mean feat, but their improved form and defensive record is al down to the tireless work of Allardyce. Ahead of 18th-placed Norwich City on goal difference, the Red and Whites need to match the results of City and Newcastle United to avoid the drop. Sunderland are 4/5 to stay up in the Premier League this season, but can they deliver in the remaining games?