Sunderland’s escape and the value of leadership

sunderland celebrate

Sunderland 3-0 Everton – www.skysports.com

Roberto Martinez was once the master of escapology. It is ironic that the final nail in his Everton coffin could have been dealt by Sunderland, who it seems have replaced Martinez’s Wigan side as the ‘Indiana Jones’ of the Premier League. The Black Cats secured a 10th consecutive top flight season after a 3-0 win, thanks to a free-kick from Patrick Van Aanholt and a Lamine Kone brace. It was a relaxing evening for Sam Allardyce’s side, Everton enduring a nnight that was anything but, having now conceded three or more goals ten times this season.

Players looked lost and confused. Some of them must take criticism for this as well as the manager, yet the whole team did not know what the plan was out of possession, if indeed there was one. The visitors did not close down and their counter-attacks were carried meekly by individuals, with no force or intent. Midway through the first half, their midfield made Younes Kaboul appear like Cristiano Ronaldo. The centre-back picked the ball up near the halfway line and was allowed to dribble, with almost a hint of bemusement, towards the box before unleashing a powerful shot that flew just wide.

Sunderland took time to impose themselves but with Everton having insufficient attacking outlets, the ball kept returning to forward areas. Left-back Van Aanholt spent more time in the opposition half than he did in his own and it was the Dutchman who scored the opener, his curling free-kick deceiving Joel Robles.

Sunderland doubled their lead five minutes later when the ball was floated towards the six-yard box and Kone lashed home. It was a poacher’s finish from the centre-back, the type more associated with 18-goal man Jermain Defoe. The 33-year-old, who is contracted to Sunderland for another two years, should have netted at least once. He was played through on goal on numerous occasions, once attempting a delicate chip over the goalkeeper, forcing a goal-line clearance from Matthew Pennington.

That was a rare bright moment from Everton’s back-line, which returned to ball-watching habits for the resultant corner. After a Wahbi Khazri delivery, Kone had time to swivel and prod into the empty net to seal Sunderland’s survival. The away side had struggled against the power of their opponents and looked vulnerable from set pieces all afternoon.

Ironically, their best spell came when the game was beyond them, as Ramiro Funes Mori forced a reflex save from Vito Mannone. The Italian made a number of stops in the latter stages and his business may have had a little to do with Allardyce’s substitutions. Not for the only time, Sunderland lost a degree of solidity when key midfielder Jan Kirchoff came off, Sebastien Larsson replacing the former Bayern Munich anchor man. With 11 minutes to play, Lee Cattermole made way for John O’Shea and this defensive change saw Sunderland invite Everton to shoot on occassion. That did not matter greatly in a half hour that had become a party for home fans, who knew their side would relegate rivals Newcastle in the process of staying up. If Everton are not careful, similar performances next season could see them fall into the same position as their north-east opponents.

To halt the decline, Evertonians hope Martinez will leave Goodison Park. Should that happen, one hopes that he will take some time to re-evaluate his philosophy. The Spaniard believes in open, possession football with high levels of creative freedom. That approach worked in his first season at Everton, but in its extreme, it has led to tactical anarchy, a lack of discipline and work rate.

By contrast, Sam Allardyce solidifies teams and ensures that every player knows their jobs inside out. There is no complex art to what the 61-year-old does, he just masters the basics, which is why Sunderland have crawled out of trouble yet again. Unfortunately for Martinez, he is unlikely to reach the same fate.