TEAM ANALYSIS

Bournemouth vs Sunderland: An Unexpected Win

Author: Iain Macintosh

It finally happened. After eleven games and what felt like an eternity of pain and frustration, Sunderland won a game of football. So how on earth did that happen?

Did they finally click? Did the David Moyes project finally take shape out that there on the lush fields of the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth? Did a team of perpetual failures finally stand up and roar, “No! I will not go quietly into the night!”

Not exactly.

Moyes was rewarded for his bravery in selection, both in recruitment and in line-up (and more on that later), but he was, at the same time, rather fortunate. This is no bad thing. Sunderland, after all, have been very unfortunate this season, most notably when young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford let a late shot slip through his hands at Southampton early in the season when his team were winning 1-0. Perhaps they were long overdue a result like this. Because Bournemouth were, for much of the game, the better team.

But let’s talk shape. For the first time this season, Moyes sent out two strikers, the constant silver lining that is Jermain Defoe and inconsistent, injury prone man mountain Victor Anichebe. And the decision brought both positives and negatives. Negatives because the use of two strikers means, assuming there’s a back four involved, only two central midfielders. And when you’re up against a team that pass like Bournemouth, you need three midfielders.

From the first minute, the Cherries swamped Didier Ngong and Steven Pienaar in the middle. Harry Arter is so eager to play that he counts as one and a half midfielders anyway, but with Dan Gosling and Jack Wilshere in the mix as well, there was a clear winner in the central areas.

Fortunately, the positives of a 4-4-2 were palpable. Finally, Sunderland could make the ball stick in the final third. Finally, there was someone to do the heavy lifting for Defoe. The defence was still dodgy, the midfield was overwhelmed, but when Sunderland did go forward, they looked threatening. Midway through the first half, after a rare lengthy link of passes, Anichibe loomed into the penalty area and, in quick succession, two Bournemouth players tried to dispossess him. They both bounced away like tennis balls hurled at a passing truck.

Sadly, by this point, Sunderland were already a goal down, the product of a fine Bournemouth move that culminated in a Junior Stanislaus through ball, an Adam Smith cross and the midriff of Gosling.

But it’s Pickford, the villain of the piece early on in the season, who turns hero here. A fine stop from Josh King precedes Sunderland’s equaliser by just five minutes. And what an equaliser it is. Anichebe picks up the ball in the box, holds off Simon Francis like a competitive dad holding off a child, turns and slams the ball home.

After that, it’s one chance after another. For Bournemouth. Pickford is incredible. The post is helpful. And then, after what seems like relentless pressure, Smith fells Anichebe in the box and Defoe strokes home the penalty. Still Bournemouth attack, still they go close, there is a pinball exchange that ends with everyone standing still and watching the ball as it rolls just past the post. But Sunderland somehow survive. In the second half alone, Bournemouth have eleven shots, nine of which come from inside the penalty area. And Sunderland somehow survive.

So what does it all mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that Sunderland are safe. They have played better than this and lost. But you can never underestimate the restorative powers of a win. Perhaps, just perhaps, some confidence will flood back.

What will be interesting is what Moyes does with his team for the crucial next game against Hull. If he plays Anichebe alongside Defoe, Sunderland can score goals. But without a third midfielder, they will be vulnerable in the midfield. Fortunately, thanks to the international break, Moyes has plenty of time to think about it.

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Iain Macintosh
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of  The Set Pieces