Sunderland boss David Moyes on recalling Wahbi Khazri, dropping Lamine Kone and Tees-Wear derby

Wahbi Khazri
Wahbi Khazri

As with any season that ends in failure, there are a myriad of ‘what ifs’.

Sunderland have many.

What if the likes of Victor Anichebe could have stayed injury-free and built on an encouraging run in late November? What if Leicester had sanctioned the sale of Leonardo Ulloa to replace him?

What if they rolled the managerial dice as they had for seasons previous?

What if Yann M’Vila had arrived in January, and so on.

Since his barnstorming performance against West Ham, what if Wahbi Khazri had come in from the cold earlier has been a familiar refrain.

The answer to that, of course, will never be known.

The Tunisian can be an inconsistent performer and likely to start again at the Riverside. His display will be keenly observed. Star again, and criticism of the Sunderland boss will grow again.

It was a surprise to see Moyes turn to Khazri, so late in the day, even if Seb Larsson’s suspension narrowed his options.

So what was behind the move?

“I’d seen a difference on the training ground, but also I’d tried other alternatives to see if it would work,” Moyes said.

“The one thing I have always said to Wahbi is that if he can make the difference in a game, if he can keep the ball, if he can make the key pass, if he can create something that leads to opportunities, then that was what I wanted.

“It’s not that I’ve been asking him to run around any more, it was just that if he isn’t going to offer that, then I need him to be creative.

“And against West Ham he was creative.

“He made a good chance for Didier Ndong, and he scored the goal from a corner-kick. He was creative and he helped the team.”

Sunderland’s attack has been a major part of their struggles this season, no player other than Jermain Defoe registering more than three Premier League goals.

Khazri’s exclusion has been contentious but Moyes has not been minded to pick him since his struggles in the side last October, preferring other options his squad.

Moyes said: “You also have to think that we’ve used Victor in that role, playing off the left, a bit, and I don’t think there’s a supporter who would say they didn’t want to see Victor in the team.

“At different times we’ve had Duncan Watmore, we’ve had Adnan, we’ve had Fabio, there.

“We’ve had a bit of competition but, in truth, we haven’t been able to get the goals that we wanted.”

Lamine Kone, another player signed from Ligue 1 last January, dropped to the bench against West Ham after a poor display against Manchester United a week previous.

The Ivory Coast defender has struggled to find his best form this season but Moyes says it is not due to a lack of effort. Kone faced criticism earlier in the season amid transfer interest from Everton.

Moyes said: “I think he’s giving his all, I just think he’s had some performances that haven’t hit his standards. That’s why we chose to make a change last week.”

The Black Cats boss will now weigh up whether to recall Kone for the Tees-Wear derby, admitting that the situation is ‘near desperate’.

He insists the plight is hurting him as he calls for a big effort from his players.

He said: “We’re gutted at the position is in, if any supporter feels it’s just them, we’re devastated by the position we’re in, but we’re at it, training hard, we want people who will show it and fight.

“I want us to show that we’re there and I thought the players showed it big style against West Ham.”