Allardyce talks up chances of survival after triumph
No manager enjoys talking about his own victories as much as Sam Allardyce. In the aftermath of a big win – and there can have been few bigger than this – he gushes with the self-satisfied vainglory of a man savouring his own farts. He leaves no detail untouched in explaining exactly how he pulled it off. And after this leviathan of a triumph we were treated to it yet again.
“We handled the pressure better than them,” the Sunderland manager said after a 3-0 win that blew the relegation battle wide open. “It was scrappy at times, but sometimes you have to dig it out: the back four, the goalkeeper, the finishing and the counter-attacking style we used today to great effect. Standing up to the long balls into the box. We used the ball extremely well, so the counter-attacking football paid off in the end and it’s a massive result for us.”
And that was the edited-down version. Yet who could blame him? This was a game that could have sealed Sunderland’s fate – and his own. From the moment he got into a touchline scrap with the Norwich bench in the third minute, nobody could doubt how pumped he was. A win for Norwich would have left Sunderland seven points adrift of their East Anglian rivals, instead they are now one point from safety with a game in hand. “It’s the biggest performance and win of the season for us,” he said.
Alex Neil disputed Allardyce’s suggestion that Norwich had failed to handle the pressure of the occasion. “I think that’s a lot of rubbish,” the manager said. “They got a penalty against the run of play, then a breakaway goal, arguably after a free-kick. We had 14 corners, they had zero. We were dominant. If he deems that to be handling the pressure better then I don’t agree.”
This was a masterclass of an away performance from Sunderland, but
one that does not in itself point to their survival. Against superior opponents they will need to show more quality. They will not get as much space nor as many opportunities to counter-attack against, say, Arsenal next Sunday.
But we did learn that Sunderland have heart in abundance. “We are all team-mates and we look after each other,” said Fabio Borini, scorer of the first goal from the penalty spot and creator of the second. “Our changing room is outstanding and one of the best I have ever been in. We showed that when we work together we can play football.”
This, as much as the three points, was the real value of Saturday’s performance. In each of the All for one: Fabio Borini praised his team’s spirit last three seasons, Sunderland have managed to escape from the seemingly irresistible clutches of Championship football. How do they manage it?
“I spoke to Lee Cattermole,” Allardyce said. “He said that players have given that little bit more, had a bit more quality, and had a bit more luck.”
Norwich have the opposite predicament. They have the quality, but Neil does not know what sort of performance he can expect from one week to the next.
But here is the issue: of the 14 Norwich players who played on Saturday, 11 have been relegated before. This is a squad fighting not just Sunderland and Newcastle, but its own haunting memories.