ADAM JOHNSON believes a multi-pronged threat has been crucial towards Sunderland’s dramatic transformation over the last fortnight.
For too long over the last couple of years, Sunderland have relied upon one in-form player to get the Black Cats out of jail.
Last season, Steven Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon held that weight of responsibility, while this year, Johnson and on-loan pair Ki Sung-Yueng and Fabio Borini have been Sunderland’s big hopes at various stages of the campaign.
But with Connor Wickham netting five goals in three, Borini converting from the spot in the last two and Johnson continuing to put defenders on the back foot, Gus Poyet’s side have looked far more threatening in their seven-point haul over the last three games.
Johnson told SportMail: “I think it’s important to not just have one threat. Even if you look at the top teams, they have an individual, but if he is not doing it one day or getting marked out of the game, there’s always somebody else to do it.
“Relying on one or two people is difficult in a team of 11.
“Teams are just going to pinpoint one person and think if he doesn’t play, the team won’t.
“I think that’s probably been our trouble throughout the season, we haven’t had enough people on it at once.”
Wickham has been the catalyst for the vast improvement in Sunderland’s attacking threat after making the most of his opportunity in the starting XI following his return from a loan spell at Leeds United.
Johnson has noticed the difference in the two years he has worked alongside Wickham.
And he believes the 21-year-old has simplified his game, rather than looking for the spectacular.
“Connor’s a threat and he’s a big lad. He’s tough to play against,” added the England winger.
“In the last couple of games, I think he’s just gone back to basics – held it up well, laid it off and got in the box.
“Obviously that’s through developing and maturing. When I first came, he was young and a bit raw.
“But now he’s a big lad and knows exactly what he’s good at.
“You can’t get it off him when you play it into him with his touch and how big he is.
“Now he’s bringing in goals. A couple of his finishes look like he’s been around for ages.”
l ON-LOAN Sunderland striker Danny Graham insists he still remains in the dark over his future at the Stadium of Light.
Graham has netted five goals in his second spell for Middlesbrough after joining the Boro on loan in the January transfer window.
The £5million frontman still has two years left on his contract with Sunderland, despite being farmed out on loan just six months into his career on Wearside.
Black Cats boss Gus Poyet opted against recalling Graham from Hull in January, preferring instead to sanction a subsequent loan at Boro. That was a decent indication of the 28-year-old’s place in Poyet’s plans.
But if Sunderland suffer relegation to the Championship, there is a possibility that Graham could have a future at the Stadium of Light, with a huge exodus envisaged at the club if the Black Cats drop out of the Premier League.
Graham is yet to speak with anyone from Sunderland though and will have to bide his time to see where his career lies after his final game for Boro at Yeovil on Sunday.
“The honest truth is I haven’t got a clue where my future lies beyond next week,” said Graham.
“I’ve still not spoken to anyone at Sunderland and I’m just concentrating on Yeovil.
“Hopefully I can get a couple more goals before we go away for the summer and then we can reassess and see what everyone says and where my future lies.
“If there was an opportunity I certainly would like to stay longer.
“This is a club that gave me my first chance in professional football and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of months, although it took us awhile to win when I first came.
“I’ve got a lot of feelings for the club and there are signs that next year could be a big season for Middlesbrough.”