Saturday 17 February 2018

Advocaat knows Black Cats still have some lives left

Sunderland 2 Southampton 1

Dick Advocaat's Sunderland side have found some momentum when it is needed most
Dick Advocaat's Sunderland side have found some momentum when it is needed most
Sunderland's Jordi Gomez celebrates after he scored his team's second goal against Southampton at the Stadium of Light on Saturday
Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse receives a red card against Sunderland on Saturday

Luke Edwards

Sunderland do not take any great pride from their survival skills, but they do take comfort.

They have been here before and it shows. When the pressure is on, when fear spreads at the bottom of the table like a debilitating virus, the Black Cats know how to nurse themselves through it.

Four years in a row, Sunderland have been stalked by relegation, three years running they have escaped its crushing embrace.

That they are in yet another desperate battle to avoid the drop is a mark of failure, of recruitment mistakes being repeated, but they have made a habit of avoiding disaster.

For all their limitations, there is a resolve in both the players and supporters, a curious sort of confidence in knowing they have been in equally precarious situations before and survived.

Had Sunderland lost here against Southampton, they would have been adrift in the bottom three. Hope would have faded.

A victory means they remain in touch with five teams above them and ensures their future is still in their own hands.

With a game in hand - albeit against Arsenal - on Aston Villa, Leicester City and, most tantalising of all, Newcastle United, Sunderland have given themselves a fighting chance.

Crucially, they have found some momentum when it is needed most under new head coach Dick Advocaat.

"It started already in the dressing room before the game, the commitment," said Advocaat, who has handled a fragile dressing room carefully and skilfully, even after the 4-1 thrashing by Crystal Palace.

"I could see the way the players were sitting and talking to each other that they were really up for it."

Southampton were not at their best, weary perhaps, but might still have won the game had they not gifted Sunderland two penalties.

Jose Fonte rashly scythed down Danny Graham for the first and James Ward-Prowse gave away the second when he clattered into the back of Jermain Defoe.

Both spot-kicks were calmly converted by Jordi Gómez, although Sunderland immediately returned the first favour in slapstick fashion.

The collision between Costel Pantilimon and Sebastian Coates was comical, the centre-back wiping out his goalkeeper as he came to collect a simple cross, allowing a slightly startled Sadio Mané to stroke a shot into an empty net. Sunderland's lead had lasted less than a minute.

Pantilimon redeemed himself in stoppage time, beating away a wicked shot from Steve Davis. A draw would have felt like a defeat.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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