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Poyet hoping derby victory proves the turning point in Sunderland's season
GUSTAVO POYET is hoping yesterday's thrilling Wear-Tyne derby win over Newcastle United proves to be the catalyst that kick-starts Sunderland's season.
Fabio Borini's 85th-minute winner secured the Black Cats' second triumph over their North-East rivals in the space of six months, and lifted the Wearsiders off the foot of the Premier League table for the first time since early September.
Mathieu Debuchy's second-half strike cancelled out Steven Fletcher's early headed opener, but Borini's sensational late strike enabled Sunderland to taste victory in the top-flight for the first time this season.
In his programme notes, chairman Ellis Short described the start to the season as “our worst nightmare”, and had Sunderland lost yesterday, it would have been hard to see them hauling themselves to safety despite having only played nine games.
As it is now, there is a renewed sense of optimism among players and supporters alike, and with next weekend's trip to Hull City offering another decent opportunity to collect points, the hope is that a corner has been turned.
“We needed a lift, and there is no better lift than this one,” said Poyet, who claimed his first Sunderland victory since replacing Paolo Di Canio at the second time of asking. “I'm very happy for the players, and absolutely delighted for the fans.
“I saw what it means all last week in town and can imagine how they are going to be for the rest of this week now. I don't know how much it matters to them that we are second from bottom – but they will be delighted that we have beaten our rivals. They're going to have a nice week now.
“I didn't like to look at the table, because when you are bottom, it is not nice. We are off the bottom now, and that is something, and we have beaten our biggest rivals, that's even bigger.
“Now, we need to keep going and start passing the ball better. We need to keep believing and do different things. This is what we needed, and from now on, there are no excuses.”
Tellingly, Poyet started with just two of the 14 players that were signed by Sunderland's director of football, Roberto De Fanti, this summer, although a third, Borini, came off the substitutes' bench to make all the difference.
The Uruguayan made four changes to the side that lost at Swansea last weekend, and admits that a 'back to basics' approach had paid dividends.
Whereas Di Canio played midfielders (Craig Gardner and Jack Colback) in the full-back berths, Poyet selected round pegs in round holes in the shape of Phil Bardsley and Andrea Dossena.
He paired Lee Cattermole with Jack Colback at the heart of midfield, and the pair performed superbly, outplaying Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye and controlling the tempo of the game.
And by naming both Fletcher and Jozy Altidore in attack, Poyet was able to revert to a 4-4-2 formation that enabled Sunderland to attack in numbers and harry their opponents when they did not have the ball.
“I tried to go to basics – play a left-back at left-back, right-back at right-back and two central midfielders in central midfield,” said the Sunderland boss. “It is not difficult, but sometimes when you think too much, you can complicate things.
“Probably the biggest risk was to play with the two main strikers in the middle, and sometimes when you do that, you have to work a little bit more in midfield. We had to close down and defend in a different way, but if we don't take risks, we are not going to get out.
“We changed two or three things. The first one was the players. We talked and searched for solutions, especially in relation to their positions on the field. Then, we completely changed the shape of the game.
“I brought on a player like Ki (Sung-Yeung), who was totally the opposite to Lee, and put another striker up front. Today, it worked, but it's up to the players. Sometimes, they don't realise how important they are.”
Borini probably has a good idea as to the significance of his own intervention, and the Italian's winner already stands alongside last-season's exocet from David Vaughan as an all-time great derby strike.
Signed on loan from Liverpool on transfer-deadline day, this was only Borini's fourth Premier League appearance for the Black Cats. On the evidence of his stunning long-range strike, it is unlikely to be his last.
“Fabio was so close to playing because of the way he has been training, his attitude and how positive he is,” said Poyet. “But sometimes you cannot play because of the shape or the rest of the team. If someone deserved to score today, it was probably Fabio Borini.”
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