Attacking full-backs are proving a real handful

Robin Sainty
Friday, September 30, 2011
11:34 AM

What an atmosphere at Carrow Road on Monday night! While the presence of the Sky cameras can lead to swathes of empty seats at other grounds, ours was a sea of yellow and green, although credit has to go to the significant numbers of Sunderland fans who made such a long trek for an evening kick off.

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While it was great to register our first win at Bolton, I think we all realise that home form will be pivotal to our campaign, so to win against a side containing three players with significant Champions League experience was a huge step forwards.

While the stats show that Sunderland enjoyed more possession no one could question the fact that we were far and away the more penetrative side until those nervy last ten minutes.

I think that in many respects this was the game which really showed that we have arrived as a Premier League team.

The only black spot on a great night was seeing James Vaughan crumple to the ground off the ball. I have said all summer that Vaughan was a player who could make a huge difference to our season.

I remember him bursting into the Everton team after Rooney’s departure and looking like a massive prospect, but then the injuries started, and it looks like this could be another one which will keep him out for some time.

Some players just seem to be doomed to recurrent problems and, sadly, Vaughan seems to be one of them.

Let’s hope he’s back soon, because his turn of Bramble, run and shot had already offered a tantalising glimpse of what he can bring to the table.

The interesting thing going forward will be whether we stick with the current formation which has brought consecutive wins. Given that we’ve spent two seasons pretty much wedded to the diamond it’s refreshing to see us play with so much width.

The key to it is that we have two fullbacks who are excellent defensively, but who also have the ability to interchange with the wingers going forward, creating big problems for the defending team. Tierney’s cross for the second goal was sublime and Naughton also got forward on a regular basis.

If you can stretch teams you will inevitably create space and that allows your creative players more time on the ball, something which Fox and Hoolahan thrived on, particularly after half time when we noticeably squeezed Sunderland higher up the pitch.

However, the formation also works really well from a defensive point of view. Bennett and Pilkington both have the pace and desire to get back and defend, and with Fox and Johnson screening the back four we are able to allow teams to have possession in areas where they can’t hurt us. Sunderland had a lot of the ball, but our discipline was such that they were never able to isolate individuals and play around them, because we always had cover in place.

Nevertheless, the one thing that I have learned over the last couple of seasons is that Paul Lambert is always likely to spring a surprise when it comes to team selection. How many of us would have predicted that he would play Russell Martin, a right back, as a left-sided centre back or leave Grant Holt on the bench and start Steve Morison, yet they both proved to be inspired decisions.

And so, with two straight wins in the bag, it’s onward to Old Trafford with a spring in our step and certain lightness in our hearts. This Premiership business is turning out to be fun, isn’t it?

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