Sam Allardyce has backed Lamine Kone’s no-frills approach to defending which has gven them a chance to avoid the drop.
The 27-year-old Ivory Coast international, a January signing from Lorient, has been a major hit on Wearside and has contributed to three clean sheets in the last four games as the Black Cats have eased themselves out of the relegation zone, if only just.
Indeed, he has proved so effective that he and current central defensive partner Younes Kaboul are keeping vastly-experienced Republic of Ireland international John O’Shea out of the team.
However, it is his no-nonsense approach to his job which has pleased his manager and won him so many admirers at the Stadium of Light, where he has already established himself as something of a cult hero.
Allardyce said: “He’s a proper centre-half who knows how to defend. Whoever has brought him up and coached him has coached him how to defend, not come sweeping out of the back with the ball and play this pass and that pass.
“All that rubbish that pundits go on about, saying, ‘he’s a good centre-half because he comes out of the back with the ball and passes it’ – he’s there to defend.
“Defenders are there to defend, their first job is to defend and then play after, and if they can’t defend, then they can’t play at centre-half, certainly not at the top level or at international level because every international team that wins any tournament or any team that wins a league has really good defenders and has more clean sheets than anybody else.
“He’s a really good defender, senses danger, enjoys defending as well, and plays a very simple, very effective basic game, and that looks extremely good and makes him look extremely talented both in and out of possession.”
Another clean sheet at out-of-form Stoke this weekend could see Sunderland strengthen their grip on safety with derby rivals Newcastle in hot pursuit and Norwich ready to resume action after an enforced lay-off.
Allardyce has suggested that the Magpies’ opponents this weekend, Crystal Palace, may already have one eye on the FA Cup final, although he is expecting Mark Hughes’ Potters to be a much tougher proposition as they attempt to bounce back from a run of three successive defeats in each of which they have conceded four goals.
He said: “I think there’s been a little bit too much emphasis on the switching-off scenario because for me, it’s the list of injuries that’s the big problem for Mark. I have known Mark for years and I have never known him take it easy on his players, ever.
“For us, it’s trying to achieve as many wins as we can as quickly as we can and not have to rely on the last game now, if we possibly can.
“If we won the next three games, we wouldn’t have to rely on Watford (on the last day) – and we could be capable of winning them if we play our best.”