Sam Allardyce has told his Sunderland players to “play safe” rather than risk the pattern of individual clangers continuing.
New boss Allardyce has made strengthening Sunderland’s defence his immediate priority after taking charge at the Stadium of Light, with no Premier League team conceding more goals in the opening eight games than the Black Cats’ tally of 18.
I have to reduce the errors the team makes in all areas of the pitch and say ‘if in doubt, play safe’.Sam Allardyce
Sunderland were plagued by individual errors, in particular, under Dick Advocaat’s tenure at the start of the season – goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon the latest culprit, with a mistake for West Ham’s equaliser in the last game before the two-week international break.
And as Allardyce prepares his bid to turn around Sunderland’s fortunes at West Brom tomorrow, he says those habits have to stop, even if it means players having to take a backwards step.
He said: “What the players have to cut out is those individual errors that have cost them so much.
“I have to reduce the errors the team makes in all areas of the pitch and say ‘if in doubt, play safe’.
“Don’t take the risk for the time being, let’s be more resilient.
“If you’re to win a football match, you don’t do it just by scoring more than one goal than the opposition, 99 per cent of the time, you have made fewer mistakes too.”
Allardyce will be forced to make at least one change in defence tomorrow, with Sebastian Coates missing through suspension, although fellow centre-half Younes Kaboul is available again after returning to training this week.
But Allardyce is looking for a collective improvement to Sunderland’s resilience, not just from his back line.
“I’m not going to say this is just a defensive problem,” he added.
“This is a team that has to be better protected by the players in front of the back four and goalkeeper.
“And then the back four and goalkeeper can’t make as many unforced errors as they’ve obviously made in the first eight games.
“Cutting out those mistakes is one of the first priorities.”
How can any manager legislate for some of the clangers produced by Sunderland players so far this season though?
Advocaat couldn’t, and Allardyce knows that, while he can improve Sunderland’s organisation, the ultimate responsibility rests with his players.
However, Allardyce believes that with a number of experienced Premier League performers in his ranks, there is the scope to repair a fragility which has been all too apparent during the opening eight matches.
“I’ve got Billy Jones, John O’Shea, Younes Kaboul, Wes Brown – they’ve all got Premier League experience,” added Allardyce.
“Coates hasn’t played that much in the Premier League, but he’s been here a long time and knows what it’s all about.
“Pantilimon has done a great job. He was at Man City for a while and forced his way into the team here last season and did a good job.
“There’s experience in front of that with the Larssons, Cattermoles, Johnsons, Defoes.
“There’s a lot of Premier League experience here.
“At the end of the day, they have to accept the responsibility to turn it around.
“I can only guide them onto the field. When they get over the white line, they have to deliver.”