Sam Allardyce has spent the international break fine-tuning his work to improve the Premier League’s worst defence.
Upon succeeding Dick Advocaat at the helm, Allardyce immediately identified Sunderland’s back-line as the glaring weakness and the Black Cats have generally looked more solid under his stewardship, albeit they shipped six goals in the kamikaze defeat at Everton.
But Allardyce has not been able to halt the pattern of individual errors undermining Sunderland’s effort to be more solid and move out of the relegation zone, with no top-flight side conceding more goals (26) this season.
With six of the starting XI from the defeat to Southampton 12 days ago still at the Academy of Light during the international break though, defensive work has dominated Allardyce’s blueprint on the training ground.
Sunderland will look to start making that work pay off when they head to Crystal Palace on Monday night.
“We’ve been able to focus more on the manager’s plans, without having to prepare a game,” said forward Fabio Borini, who came on at half-time against the Saints.
“We’ve been working defensively, while, offensively, he’s given us the idea of what he wants to do, and that’s it.
“But, obviously, if we can stop conceding goals, it’s easier to get points. We’ve lost two of the last four games 1-0, which is a bit frustrating.
“They weren’t open games though, which is better.
“We have to make sure the scoreline at least stays at zero, and then we at least can get a point.”
Borini had Sunderland’s only meaningful shot on target against the Saints, as defensive improvement came at the cost of any attacking threat.
Striking a balance between the two ends of the pitch has proved to be elusive throughout this season, yet Borini believes Allardyce has to start at the back.
He said: “I prefer to attack, but I do the defensive part because you have to do it, otherwise we will concede more and more.
“I would like to attack more than what we’re doing now and get a bit more of the ball.
“Every forward player will say the same thing.
“Maybe we can’t do as much going forwards at the moment because of the defending, but it’s a phase.
“Once we get better defensively, we will get more of the ball back to play and create more chances.”
Borini’s attacking moments are yet to see the ex-Liverpool man find the net in his second spell at the Stadium of Light.
There is mitigation for the £10million forward, though, who was lacking match-fitness when he arrived at the end of the transfer window, missed two games with an ankle injury and has only had one genuine clear-cut chance – the poor miss when through one-on-one against West Ham.
“Yes, I just want that goal,” he added.
“It’s been harder this time than the previous spell, because I didn’t play last season, which was frustrating.
“The first goal for a striker will always come because I create chances every single game. It just needs to go in.
“West Ham has been the best game offensively we’ve had since I’ve been here and we had lots of chances.
“I had that one, and one outside the box.
“If we create that much, you score three or four on another day.”