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.