How Sam Allardyce has instilled character into his Sunderland side

Jermain Defoe grabs his first to open the scoring for Sunderland
Jermain Defoe grabs his first to open the scoring for Sunderland

The character of this Sunderland side has been questioned at frequent intervals over the last three or four years.

Until the mud has begun to hit the fan during the business end of the season, too many of these players have either wilted under the pressure or contrived to suffer defeat in the most bizarre of circumstances.

Sunderland celebrate victory over Swansea

Sunderland celebrate victory over Swansea

That looked to be the case on an evening at the Liberty Stadium which can only be described as bananas.

Within three minutes of Swansea ludicrously being reduced to 10 men, Sunderland found themselves 2-1 down when concentration levels evaporated and they were caught out by a simple hoof downfield.

It was quintessential “typical” Sunderland.

But perhaps – just perhaps – Sam Allardyce is beginning to instil some sterner stuff in these players. After all, this was the first time that Sunderland had emerged victorious from a Premier League game after falling behind since the win at Chelsea in April 2014.

Andre Ayew wheels away after putting Swansea ahead

Andre Ayew wheels away after putting Swansea ahead

In two meetings against fellow strugglers over the last 10 days, Sunderland have come away with maximum points. If they can continue that pattern against Bournemouth on Saturday week, then they really will be in business.

Sunderland have held their nerve in THE games that matter.

Whether that comes from the experience of these nerve-jangling encounters at the wrong end of the table, or Allardyce making an impact on the mentalities of these players, Sunderland are finding some resiliency.

That’s a precious asset to have in the survival battle.

Just look at the panic stations which were oh-so apparent in Swansea’s ranks in those early stages last night.

If Sunderland had been 2-0 up inside the first five minutes, then the hosts couldn’t have complained after Lukasz Fabianski’s clanger had gifted Jermain Defoe the opener.

Yes, there was a hefty slice of slick with the equaliser early in the second half as the impressive Patrick van Aanholt’s shot took a wicked deflection and crashed in off the far post.

But rather than tamely struggling to break down 10 men after the break, Sunderland went for it.

They pushed forward, pressurised the hosts and got their rewards.

Neither did they spend the second half cursing their luck over referee Graham Scott’s decision to gift-wrap an equaliser for the hosts.

The officials didn’t get anything right!

Defoe’s opener – as was his second goal – was offside, but they were the more marginal of the clangers.

There was genuine laughter in the press room at half-time as journalists watched footage of Andre Ayew kicking his own trailing leg, rather than Wes Brown fouling the Ghanaian international, yet Scott awarded a spot-kick.

And the howlers kept coming; Kyle Naughton harshly dismissed for a high tackle on Yann M’Vila despite cleanly winning the ball. It was a yellow for excessive force at most.

Scott seemed intent on surpassing Kevin Friend and Andre Marriner in the most inept performances in charge of Sunderland games over recent years.

But Sunderland dusted themselves down at half-time from those decisions and went for the jugular against the 10-man hosts.

Van Aanholt pushed high up the pitch and was excellent – both with his defensive work against the lively Modou Barrow and, more importantly, going forward.

Whatever the fortune involved in the equaliser, that goal came at an absolutely crucial time for Sunderland, so soon after the interval.

The longer the encounter had worn on, the more edgy and desperate Sunderland would have become, yet drawing level just three minutes after the restart gave them the platform to attack.

Jeremain Lens – who retained his place in the “number 10” role – was again full of ideas.

Perhaps it’s needed six months to adapt to the Premier League, perhaps it’s required a quiet word from Allardyce, but the Dutch international is just beginning to make good on all that ability.

And any team who boasts an arch-predator like Jermain Defoe up front has half a chance.

Those arguments over where Defoe should play, whether he should play and who he should play alongside have been rendered utterly redundant in the last two games.

Give Defoe chances and he will score. Full stop.

Sunderland used Defoe more intelligently than they did against Aston Villa – playing short, sharp balls into his feet and in behind the nervy Swansea back-line.

But the mark of a striker is how many times he tucks the ball in the net and Borini has now scored five goals in the crucial meetings against Aston Villa and Swansea. Those goals are absolutely pivotal in the context of Sunderland’s season.

Suddenly, Sunderland have some real traction in the relegation battle with just a point now separating them from the safety mark.

Anything at Tottenham on Saturday will really have Allardyce’s men moving forward.

As a word of warning, the last time Sunderland looked to be heading in the right direction, they crashed and burned with defeat at Watford.

Perhaps now though, Sunderland have the mental strength to really make good on a drive up the table.