Jermain Defoe at home as lone striker as he eyes 20-goal haul for Sunderland

Jermain Defoe in action for Sunderland
Jermain Defoe in action for Sunderland

Jermain Defoe believes he has categorically proved his capabilities in a lone striker role, as he looks to hit the 20-goal mark during Sunderland’s final five games.

Ex-Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat was adamant that Defoe couldn’t play on his own up front and needed to be deployed either out wide or with a strike partner down the middle.

However, Sam Allardyce has been rewarded for giving the England international the responsibility as the central figure in a front three after the 33-year-old netted his 13th Premier League goal of the campaign in last weekend’s crucial win at Norwich.

Defoe believes his experience and upper-body strength have seen him thrive as a lone striker after predominantly playing in a front two throughout his career.

And after taking his tally in all competitions to 16, the ex-Spurs man is eager for another four from the last five games - starting with Sunday’s visit of Arsenal.

Defoe said: “He (Dick) said ‘I don’t think you can play up front on your own’. That’s why he decided to play me on the left.

“I don’t know, maybe I would have had 25 goals by now if I had been playing up front all the time!

“At the end of the day, it’s not about proving anyone wrong, it’s just about enjoying playing for this team.

“I’m probably better (at holding the ball up) now than ever to be honest.

“In the past, I’ve generally played with a partner in a 4-4-2. Having to play up front on my own, week after week, physically I feel really strong.

“A lot of my time at Tottenham, there were times where I felt strong physically but sometimes you’d be out of the team and it’s not the same training every day, you need to be playing games.

“It’s just having that power, and at the minute, during games I feel really strong so I can make my runs, recover, and then make my runs again.

“I feel like I can hold the ball up and bring people into play, and do everything I want to do during the game.”

He added: “I’ve always said my target is 20 for the season in all competitions.

“I think I’ve got 16 now, so I just want to keep it going and keep getting into positions where I’m going to score.

“Hopefully, when I get the chances I’ll keep scoring because the goals are needed now more than ever.”

Defoe’s tally this season is the best by a Sunderland player since Darren Bent in 2009-10, with a succession of pundits tipping the striker to make the difference for the Black Cats in the battle for survival.

But far from being daunted by that responsibility, Defoe relishes the opportunity of firing Sunderland ahead of Norwich and Newcastle in the relegation scrap.

“I like hearing that, it doesn’t put pressure on me,” he said.

“We need goals because goals win games. I’m a forward, so it’s my job to score them.

“With how we’re playing, I know I’ll get chances in games. Then it’s just up to me to score.

“If we win 1-0 at the weekend and someone else scores, I’ll be just as happy.

“But on a personal note, we’ve got five games left and I’d love to score in every game. That’s something that I’ll try to do, and if I can do that and we stay up, it’ll be great.”