Sunderland AFC analysis: Defoe’s genius shines but team-mates finally lead the way

Joleon Lescott
Joleon Lescott

Joleon Lescott was battling the mud and the swirling winds atop Penshaw Monument, an environment he would never have seen on the horizon when he left for balmy Athens last summer.

Yet there was no sense of anxiety that 12 months on from his Aston Villa nightmare, that he had walked back into a relegation storm.

Defoe got the support he needed on Saturday

Defoe got the support he needed on Saturday

Plenty of reasons for that, a squad here he sees with more experience of the pitfalls that come with the Premier League. Above all esle, because of the presence of Jermain Defoe, a player he has known since childhood, whose hunger for goals he knows as well as anyone.

Lescott said he wouldn’t put too much pressure on him, hesitated, then realised it wouldn’t make any difference. Defoe would thrive on it.

Just two days later he was fully vindicated, Defoe deadly in Sunderland’s most high-pressure game this season. He needed only one sighter, Wayne Hennessey turning his shot, headed for the top corner, past the post in the seventh minute.

The next two times Defoe got an inch of space in the box, both in a remarkable first-half stoppage time sequence, he finished with masterful poise.

Just as against Norwich and Chelsea last season, Everton and Newcastle the one before that, Defoe’s genius breathed new life into Sunderland’s ailing campaign.

He had Lescott on his feet on the dug-out with the third here. For the veteran centre-half, it had only been a matter of time.

Defoe’s brilliance, though, is the least we have come to expect.

What was most encouraging in this cathartic win was that by the time the 34-year-old made his definitive intervention, the platform had already been built by other players stepping up and making their mark.

For much of the first half, Defoe was a frustrated onlooker.

Big Sam went for a back three and Sunderland’s talisman was left isolated against a powerful and physical trio in Damian Delaney, James Tomkins and Scott Dann.

Crystal Palace were not creating chances but they were doing most of the running and Sunderland looked to be under real pressure.

So Lamine Kone’s performance, leadership by example if not through vocals, was huge.

He headed, blocked, tackled and surged, the player who become a cult hero so quickly last season. His finish for the opener was brilliant, quickest to see the second ball dropping kindly and keeping his head over the ball, even as he slipped to the floor.

Bryan Oviedo, too, offered great encouragement at left-back. In the opening moments Wilfried Zaha was getting also sorts of joy on the right flank, forcing Seb Larsson into one yellow card and almost a second. Slowly but surely the Costa Rican took control of that battle and delviered a plucky, tenacious performance.an pu

Even Lescott had his moment in this remarkable Selhurst clash.

An injury to John O’Shea saw him come on midway through the second half, and if he was understandbly rusty he also made a number of good clearances.

The crucial moment, though, came in the 43rd minute, a flash of utter inspiration from Didier Ndong.

Confidence flowed from there and the third was a beautiful team goal, a sweeping counter from box-to-box, precise and clinical.

There is much football to be played this season but these were the greenest of shoots, signs of a team emerging that can build the platform for Defoe to soar.

He is ready to take it.