MIKE DODDS was always confident Timothee Pembele would impress on his first start in a Sunderland shirt at Leeds United – because he feels the Frenchman is ideally suited to playing as a wing-back.

Having left the reserve ranks at Paris St Germain to move to Wearside in the summer, Pembele has had to bide his time as he waited for an opportunity to prove himself in Sunderland’s senior side.

The 21-year-old had made just five first-team substitute appearances prior to last night’s game against promotion-chasing Leeds, but was finally handed a first opportunity in the starting line-up as Dodds switched to a back five at Elland Road.

Pembele responded with a composed and committed display that helped Sunderland secure a creditable goalless draw, with Dodds admitting his tactical switch played to the youngster’s strengths.

“We did a lot of work over the two days with Timmy,” said Sunderland’s interim head coach. “We wanted to make sure he was really clear in terms of the angles and distances we wanted, and I felt he executed that really well.

“I think the shape change helps Timmy, I’ll be really honest with you. When we change to that shape, I think it suits Timmy, and I’ve really been waiting to move to that shape, to give him the opportunity, because I think that’s probably his best position.

“It wasn’t just Timmy though, I felt there were a lot of really professional performances out of possession. If we can get the in-possession stuff right now, then I think we can be a really strong team, regardless of age or inexperience or anything else.”


While Sunderland have struggled for results during Dodds’ latest spell in temporary charge, the quality of their defending has nevertheless improved in the last few weeks.

The 5-1 thrashing to Blackburn on Easter Monday is not easily forgotten, but either side of that aberration, the Black Cats have kept clean sheets against QPR, Cardiff, Bristol City and now Leeds. Indeed, last night’s game was the first home game in which Leeds had failed to score since September 2.

“I know Easter Monday was a real disappointment for everyone involved in the football club, and I can’t hide away from that, but that’s now four clean sheets in the last five games,” said Dodds. “So with the out-of-possession stuff, I think we’re really starting to understand what we’re trying to do. If we can just improve in possession, then I think we can be a really strong team.”