Didier Ndong was deployed in a more advanced midfield role in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City – and he won praise from his manager.
The £13.6million club record signing was tasked with helping to close down Yaya Toure and the City defence in the opening stages, with David Moyes keen to prevent City from playing the ball out from the back.
The high-press tactic was working well until Sergio Aguero stole half a yard to put City 1-0 up minutes before half-time.
Ndong’s overall performance won praise from his manager. “I was impressed because I wanted to get as much energy in the middle of the pitch to try and stop Manchester City dominating the game,” said Moyes.
“I don’t think we were ever going to fully stop that but we were trying to do it as much as we could to try and know that we could get up and press Toure and then the centre halves as well.
“For long periods we did it.
“City had a spell when they had a lot of the ball and we couldn’t stop them but for long periods we did well.”
Defeat leaves Sunderland six points adrift of safety but there were some positives to take from the 18th defeat of the campaign.
Billy Jones and Bryan Oviedo also won praise for their efforts in helping to contain the threat of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane for large periods.
The Scot did say he would take a look again at the second goal to see if Jones could have done more to prevent the impressive Sane from doubling City’s lead. On Jones, Moyes said: “I thought he played really well, up against Sane a very difficult opponent.
“I have seen the second goal and I’ll have another look to see if he narrowed up too quickly and too fast.
“I thought Billy and Bryan both did well though. All in all, we stuck to a gameplan and tried to press them.
“We took some risks with it up the pitch, some of them worked, some of them didn’t. We were willing to do that.”
Darron Gibson was substituted after 69 minutes, the midfielder going off with a knock to his knee. Fit-again Jack Rodwell came on in his place. On Gibson, Moyes said: “He just felt his knee a bit. He said it at half-time so I knew we would only get 15-20 minutes second half after that.”