Lamine Kone hopes his central defensive partnership with Younes Kaboul can provide the foundations to keep Sunderland in the Premier League.
Sunderland have conceded just four goals in the six games that January signing Kone has started alongside Kaboul, with a clean sheet in yesterday’s stalemate against Arsenal moving the Black Cats out of the relegation zone.
Sam Allardyce had spent months bemoaning his side’s inability to keep a clean sheet after a 16-game streak without a shut-out, yet now, Sunderland have registered three from their last four games.
Kaboul and Kone have been key to that improvement after the French-speaking pair have immediately formed an effective double act.
Kone said: “The partnership with Younes has started to work straightaway and we’re getting better and better.
“We obviously speak the same language, which perhaps makes things a bit easier.
“And we’re also working well with DeAndre (Yedlin) and Pat (van Aanholt). It’s important to operate as a whole unit.
“It was important for us to get clean sheets as quickly as possible and hopefully we can continue that.
“We’ve had three clean sheets in the last four games and that’s good for the group, and good for the confidence.
“We’ve needed that with the position we’re in.”
Although Sunderland had the opportunities to take maximum points against the Gunners, the mood in the Black Cats dressing room afterwards was a positive one after leapfrogging Norwich, albeit on goal difference.
Sunderland’s superior goal difference could well turn out to be a factor in the relegation battle, with only a point separating the three sides battling to avoid the drop, although Newcastle have played one extra game.
But psychologically, Sunderland at least earned a boost by moving out of the bottom three, ahead of next weekend’s trip to Stoke City.
“The gap with the other two is very small, but it’s still good for us mentally to be out of the relegation zone,” added Kone.
“The point against Arsenal was a good one, even though obviously a win would have given us a two-point gap with Norwich
“It was important that we made the most of the game in hand on Norwich, and Newcastle have obviously played once more than both of us.
“The three teams are so close and maybe even the goal difference could be very important.
“Arsenal were able to dominate possession before half-time and they had some chances.
“But the whole team worked really hard to stop them and we had chances to win the game in the second half.
“To finish with a point was a good result.”