WES Brown says ex-England team-mate Jermain Defoe is a defender’s nightmare after a decade of playing alongside and against the new Sunderland striker.
There were encouraging signs from debutant Defoe in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at his former club Spurs, despite the 32-year-old’s lack of match fitness after a three-month gap since his last competitive game for former employers Toronto FC.
Veteran Sunderland centre-half Brown made eight of his 23 England appearances alongside Defoe, while coming up against him regularly at Premier League level with Manchester United and the Black Cats.
And after being reminded of Defoe’s striking prowess on the training field over recent days, Brown has no doubt that he will provide the goals lacking from Sunderland’s attack.
Brown told the Gazette: “Jermain’s always a threat. He’s always on the last shoulder of the defender.
“He’s done it over the last few days in training and he’s so difficult to mark.
“I know he was offside a few times on Saturday, but there’ll be a few of them when he stays onside, and he’s one-on-one with the keeper.
“He wants to score and wants to get in the box.
“He wants to get in behind the defenders which is good when it’s tight.
“He’s always looking to get a shot off and his goal record speaks for itself.
“We just need to get him in the positions so he can get up and running.
“He’s been in the Premier League for many years. He knows how to score goals, knows the spaces to pick up and I’m sure he’s going to do that between now and the end of the season.”
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet switched to a 3-5-2 formation to accommodate Defoe in the starting XI after previously sticking to 4-1-4-1 throughout the campaign.
But despite minimal opportunity to work on that system on the training ground, it worked relatively effectively, with Brown admitting that the presence of two strikers helps at both ends of the pitch.
“There was a lot of attacking options,” said the 35-year-old.
“When we’ve won the ball in the past, it’s sometimes difficult with Fletch (Steven Fletcher) or Connor (Wickham) on their own up front.
“But we’ve got two options there now and we did well.
“We started to bring the midfield back into play that way and it gave us a lot more creativity in the way we attacked and it showed that with the chances.
“But saying that, we need to put the ball in the back of the net.”
However, despite the encouraging signs, Sunderland still succumbed to a fourth defeat in five Premier League outings after conceding with two minutes to go - a result which keeps the Black Cats just a point above the relegation zone prior to next weekend’s FA Cup fourth round.
“We knew Tottenham are on form, but we created chances and we’re very disappointed to lose it how we did,” added Brown.
“We were on the break, gave the ball away and they managed to pick something out on the edge of the box.
“Of course it was difficult and they put a lot of pressure on us, but we managed to deal with it.
“But for them to score with a few minutes to go, we’ve maybe got to learn to pick up and stop their attacks.”