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Jermain Defoe: From odd-man-out to cynosure

Jermain Defoe celebrates scoring against Aston Villa. Photo courtesy: Sky Sports
Jermain Defoe celebrates scoring against Aston Villa. Photo courtesy: Sky Sports
Jermain Defoe celebrates scoring against Aston Villa. Photo courtesy: Sky Sports

Adhering to second-hand wisdom almost always comes with risk. And that is what Sam Allardyce learned the hard way when it came to how to use his star striker Jermain Defoe.

Conventional wisdom dictated that the forward could not operate by himself at Sunderland. Allardyce bought into that philosophy, and knowing he didn’t have the strength in midfield to play two strikers up front, often dropped Defoe from the first XI. The result: Defoe warmed the benches, going weeks without playing, or getting a few minutes here and there as a substitute.

Hardly the sort of involvement Sunderland’s best-paid player would have expected when he signed the dotted line.

However, come the new year, Allardyce decided he had had enough, and employed that instinct that has served him so well for so many years. He started Defoe as a lone striker, slotted Adam Johnson in the hole behind his striker, and reaped the rewards against Aston Villa.

Defoe scored twice, had another ruled out for a tight (and debatable) offside decision as Sunderland ran out 3-1 winners over their fellow relegation battlers.

After the game Big Sam was his usual combative self: “Why has everybody consistently said Jermain can’t play up front on his own? I’ve listened to everybody else but, in the end, I’ve decided to have a go with Jermain as a lone striker and it’s paid off. Adam Johnson’s ball control and quality can provide the service for Jermain to get between the full-backs and the centre-halves.

“We can’t just kick it up the middle anymore, that’s a waste of time. Maybe everybody has to realise Jermain’s there to provide for. That he’s the end product, not part of the build-up or a hold-up player. So we’re going to have to change our style, play through midfield, do better in wide positions and provide Jermain with cleverer balls. If we do that he’ll win us games.”

And with a return of 9 goals in 12 starts this season, Jermain Defoe has suddenly returned to the spotlight he so rightly deserves.

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