Sunderland's strikers need to step up and relieve pressure from Jermain Defoe

Scoring goals hasn't been Sunderland's problem this campaign as they battle against the drop into the Championship.

Sunderland's Jermain Defoe (left) celebrates scoring
Sunderland's Jermain Defoe (left) celebrates scoring

No, the Achilles Heal has been shipping them in at the other end with opposition side’s taking advantage of a nervy backline.

Statistics can often be misleading but you just have to take one look at the league table to see were the problems lie for the Black Cats.

In 26 Premier League games, Sunderland, currently 19th and a point from safety, have managed to score 32 goals but concede a joint-high 50 goals.

Only fellow struggles Norwich City have conceded the same amount of goals as Sunderland, with Newcastle United (49) and Aston Villa (46) the next in line.

Offensively though, Sunderland have been consistent all season with only two sides managing to score more than them in the bottom half of the table; Everton and Chelsea.

That is a major cause of optimism among Sunderland fans and manager Sam Allardyce.

If the Black Cats were shipping them in at one end and struggling up the other, then the club’s relegation would be a certainty.

But so long as Jermain Defoe stays fit and firing on all cylinders, then Sunderland have a great chance of getting out of trouble. Again.

The ex-England international has 13 goals to his name this campaign, 10 in the league and three in the League Cup.

Defoe has scored almost a third of his side’s league goals.

An incredible stat that just goes to prove his worth to this Sunderland side. As if anybody needed reminding.

Both Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat struggled to find a system that suited Defoe in order to get the best out of him, with Advocaat even resorting to playing him at left-back at one stage.

But he is flourishing under Allardyce, who has come to the firm conclusion that the 33-year-old is capable of leading the line by himself, despite his increasing years.

His form since the turn of the year has been scintillating.

A brace to help Sunderland win the crucial home game with Aston Villa was followed by a match-winning hat-trick at Swansea City and the recent last-gasp equaliser against Liverpool.

Seven points he helped win. Crucial points in the battle for survival.

But football isn’t played by one player, it is a team game and Allardyce is going to need his other strikers to step up to the plate between now and the end of the season - especially when you have the quality of delivery that Wahbi Khazri possesses.

You just have to look at the club’s goalscoring chart to see it will cause Sunderland major problems should Defoe be injured or suffer a loss of form.

The three players nearest to him have managed just three goals each.

Jeremain Lens, currently out injured with a hernia, has two in the league and one in the FA Cup.

Fellow Dutchman Patrick van Aanholt, one of the surprise packages of recent months, is joint second with three league goals including the important equaliser against AFC Bournemouth.

While young livewire Duncan Watmore also has three (two goals in the league and one in the League Cup) but he is facing several weeks out with ankle ligament damage.

Worryingly, on-loan striker Dame N’Doye is yet to open his Sunderland account, while Fabio Borini has been struggling for goals and a consistent run in the side all season.

The Italian has only scored twice since returning to the Stadium of Light in the summer, against Chelsea and Manchester City - both consolation goals.

The system, often 4-2-3-1, deployed by Allardyce doesn’t suit Borini and N’Doye when it comes to being a goal threat.

When they have started they have been deployed wide right. N’Doye, on loan from Turkish side Trabzonspor, looked much more of a threat when he was pushed up front against Manchester United.

But the 31-year-old Senegal striker fluffed a one-on-one situation, which thankfully didn’t prove crucial.

Borini, meanwhile, has often been among the first to be subbed in games or dropped to the bench this campaign.

The 24-year-old has disappointed since returning to the North East in an £8million deal.

But at some point this campaign, Sunderland will need him to revive the form he showed during his loan spell two years ago.

Allardyce recently said: “As long as the other lads do their jobs for him and keep clean sheets, he’s [Defoe] going to be our man that wins a lot of games for us.”

That is true.

But the former Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham manager is experienced enough to know he needs his other strikers to join the party too.

Before it is too late.