Sunderland began their latest attempt to secure another great escape from relegation with a convincing 4-0 victory at troubled Crystal Palace.
Strengthened by their recruitment throughout January and the returns of those playing at the African Nations Cup, they left their hosts at their greatest risk of relegation since they returned to the Premier League in 2013.
Even after Jermain Defoe’s two goals doubled the advantage built by earlier finishes from Lamine Kone and Didier N’Dong, Sunderland’s latest three points only brought their total to 19 – level with 19th-placed Palace – and did not lift them from the bottom of the Premier League standings.
Crucially, however, now manager David Moyes has a competent squad and overseen such a positive performance after their resilience earned a 0-0 draw with Tottenham on Tuesday, the bigger picture has vastly improved.
As Sunderland likely did after holding Spurs, Palace felt their 2-0 win at Bournemouth, also on Tuesday, could provide the platform they needed to rebuild their confidence and gradually move towards safety. With Sam Allardyce in charge they also have the manager who so impressively inspired their visitors to survival less than 12 months ago.
It regardless took only 10 minutes for that illusion to be shattered. From a right-wing free-kick, Sebastian Larsson crossed to Kone, who after goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey spilt his header under pressure from Billy Jones, reacted to finish from the floor inside the far right post.
The goal instantly drained Palace’s confidence, and after Larsson was perhaps fortunate not to be sent off for a second yellow card, another followed in the 43rd minute. Palace substitute Joe Ledley, who had replaced the injured Yohan Cabaye, was caught in possession on the edge of the area by N’Dong, who then powerfully struck their second off the inside of the right post.
It was at that point Palace appeared to give up and gifted Sunderland the easiest of goals. Adnan Januzaj was gifted an abundance of time and space on the left to play in Defoe, who controlled possession before with his weaker left foot shooting into the far right corner.
The two combined again for Sunderland’s second goal of first-half stoppage time, in a moment of promising quality. N’Dong found Januzaj on the right, who played a delightful pass into the area to Defoe, from where he turned and held off James Tomkins before scoring with another left-footed finish into the bottom right.
Palace’s supporters, usually so positive, responded by chanting “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” before one invaded the pitch in an apparent attempt confront Damien Delaney as they were booed of at half-time.
Allardyce replaced Delaney with Andros Townsend for the second half, and then Loic Remy for James McArthur as their 5-4-1 became a 4-4-2, but his side still provided far too little.
Sunderland – who handed Bryan Oviedo his debut from the start and Darron Gibson and Joleon Lescott theirs from the bench – were content not to concede thereafter, in the knowledge their season may just be turning.