Physically, Sam Allardyce was not impressed by Sunderland’s output when he arrived at the Stadium of Light in October.
Inheriting a squad left under-cooked by a jet-setting pre-season, Allardyce and his backroom team were forced to embark upon a fitness programme which risked injuries and saw senior players John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul and Ola Toivonen limp to the sidelines in just the second game of his reign.
But Allardyce believes his squad are now “15 per cent” fitter than when he first took charge and the late goals which salvaged four points against Liverpool and Manchester United perhaps bear testimony to that.
Preserving those conditioning levels was inevitably an element of the work done with Sunderland’s squad under the Dubai sun last week at their warm-weather training camp.
Working at ex-Real Madrid defender Michel Salgado’s Dubai Sports City facility, also allowed Allardyce a sustained period of time to prepare his players for the trip to his former club, West Ham, this weekend.
But it was a mental, rather than physical, boost which Allardyce was predominantly looking to achieve in the Middle East after the psychological pressure stemming from more than six months nestled in the thick of the relegation battle.
“The main goal was to clear the mind a bit, but there was training too – running and playing,” full-back DeAndre Yedlin said.
“It’s not so much about improving fitness now.
“It’s as much about having a rest after all those games over Christmas, for the guys who have played.
“The manager just wanted us to clear our minds and be ready for the last stage of the season.
“We’re still towards the bottom of the league and we need to get out of it.
“We know it’s going to need a lot of graft.
“During the season, especially up to that point, psychologically it’s a lot, with no rest over Christmas.
“To get that rest for your mind is huge, for all players.”
Yedlin has not been in the thick of that building mental block after starting just nine Premier League games since arriving on a season-long loan from title-chasing Spurs.
But, like the rest of the Sunderland squad, Yedlin headed away in buoyant spirits after playing his part in the win over Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United.
That Stadium of Light success was Yedlin’s first Premier League start since December, with a loss of form, plus a hip problem, seeing fellow right-back Billy Jones come out of the side.
However, the American international did enough to merit keeping his place at Upton Park, and believes that his defending has progressed under Allardyce’s tutelage, even if his involvement has been limited.
“Football is a process and, especially being a young player, it’s something I have to overcome,” he said.
“You’re going to have highs and lows.
“It’s getting through those lows which is what defines you as a player.
“I’ve just been working hard to get back in the team and thankfully that’s happened.
“Hopefully now, I can keep my spot.
“I think I’ve improved immensely in defending this season – not only one vs one, but also positioning.
“I’m obviously learning from guys like Younes (Kaboul), Sheasy (John O’Shea) and Wes (Brown).
“These are all guys who’ve been with top teams and have been through it.
“It’s a great experience for me.”
Even if Yedlin keeps his place at Upton Park for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off, his long-term future is more uncertain.
Spurs continue to remain in regular contact with the 22-year-old, yet there have been no noises emerging yet about Sunderland potentially looking to keep the defender on Wearside.
“Honestly, whatever happens, happens,” he added.
“That’s how my thought process has always been.
“If my path is with Tottenham, then I’ll be happy and do all I can to help them.
“If not, then whatever team I’m with, then I’ll fight to help them.
“That’s always how my mind has been.”