Altidore key to Sunderland’s revival

As the Gus Poyet revival continues it’s easy to pick out people who have really seen their stock grow.

Altidore key to Sunderland’s revival

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February 10th, 2014

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Adam Johnson and Jack Colback are taking plaudits, and there’s even talk of them being outside bets to spend their summer in Brazil as part of Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

Vito Mannone is attracting big interest from overseas. Ki Sung-Yeung is probably our most pivotal player. The last person to have a resurrection as impressive as Phil Bardsley has had, had a religion founded on him. Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Marcos Alonso… the list goes on.

However the person I want to single out for some praise this month is someone a mere four months ago I really didn’t expect to be doing so.

Jozy Altidore.

Yes, our big-money American arrived this summer from Eredevise side AZ with big expectations. He’d managed two fantastic seasons on the bounce for the Alkmaar side, was doing well for the USA national team and had there was a swell of thought that he’d turned things around since he was last seen on English shores during a very unsuccessful spell with Hull City.

It’s often overlooked, including by myself, that Altidore was only 19 years old when he was with the Tigers, and today is still just 24 years old, having just turned that age prior to Christmas gone.

He started the season incredibly poorly. The lack of goals was one thing but in general his whole persona was baffling.

You look at what he has physically: a huge frame and gigantic muscles should mean he’s an absolute beast of a forward. He’s no slouch either, and pace alone should mean he terrifies opposing defenders.

However it just didn’t seem to be the case. At times he looks weak. Pushed off the ball with relative ease, and a hell of a lot of his strikes on goal lacked any sort of power; certainly not the power befitting of a man of his stature.

He himself has been big enough to admit he hasn’t been doing enough and he’s very much lacking in confidence when in front of goal – certainly not helped by certain sections of our ‘support’ jumping on him for the slightest indiscretion, not to mention the social-media-savvy forward getting it even worse on Twitter.

Whilst I’ve not at any stage joined that abuse, and never would, I had written him off as an option for us. I’m now very glad to be tucking into those words following the performances Jozy has served us of late.

So what has changed? I honestly don’t know. I do think it started against Fulham away from home though where, despite Adam Johnson taking all the plaudits, Altidore played an instrumental role in the game and quietly impressed in a supporting role.

These sorts of performances continued whenever he was in the side. There seemed to be a rotation with him and Steven Fletcher as both struggled for goals.

Perhaps the best thing Altidore has done for us this season was a magnificent game in our most recent 3-0 triumph against Newcastle. Once again Altidore didn’t find the back of the net, but for me he was the man of the match.

And perhaps this is what Altidore is. Perhaps we were mis-sold that he’d transformed into a goal-scoring machine during his time in the Netherlands.

He’s begun to use his size well. Admittedly he does still get pushed off the ball a little, but his ability to bring others into play is nothing short of fantastic. He’s also working hard in chasing defenders and creating chances. It really seems only a matter of time before the goals begin to come for him.

With Fletcher out of the frame for the foreseeable future with injury too, Altidore knows it’s all on him. He’s got time in the team. He’s our number one striker until Fletcher or Nacho Scocco does something about it. The pressure he may have been feeling is certainly off him for a while.

Once the goals do come — and they will — and he has that added confidence to his current level of performance, we could see a very special player down an important stretch of the season.

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