LONDON (Reuters) – Relieved Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce gave thanks for two-goal Jermain Defoe after his side ended a five-match losing streak with a 3-1 win over fellow Premier League strugglers Aston Villa on Saturday.
“Thank God for Jermain Defoe and his finishing qualities. He turned the game back in our favour,” Allardyce told Sky Sports after the 33-year-old former England striker’s double at the Stadium of Light.
The clash of the basement clubs, a classic ‘six pointer’ in an increasingly desperate battle to avoid the drop from the world’s most lucrative league, looked finely balanced before Defoe settled it.
Allardyce had described the game as Sunderland’s “biggest of the season” so far.
The Black Cats went ahead against the run of play in the 30th minute when Patrick van Aanholt’s shot took a deflection off visiting defender Micah Richards.
Villa equalised through Carles Gil’s volley in the 63rd minute before Defoe, who could have had a hat-trick, netted twice, his second arriving in stoppage time.
“I was very pleased about everyone holding their nerve today, fans included. When they scored we could have gone under,” said Allardyce.
“We didn’t, we kept plugging away and kept it nice and tight at the back and we finally got what we wanted.
“Anxiety is what you need to play football, you need to have a little bit of tension, but if it goes too far into fear than that’s when you can lose your nerve…the only way to dismiss that fear is to keep winning football matches,” added Allardyce.
The win left Sunderland in deep trouble still, second from bottom with 15 points from 20 games, but their morale revived.
Villa, on a mere eight points, look doomed. Manager Remi Garde exchanged angry words with Allardyce at the final whistle and refused to shake the Sunderland manager’s hand.
Garde was unhappy his counterpart did not acknowledge him before the start of the match.
“I would have preferred that Mr Allardyce came to me before the game to say ‘hello’,” said the Frenchman.
“It’s just a sign of (being) welcomed but I don’t want to do too much (about it). I was upset probably by the result but that’s it.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Jimenez)