Allardyce and Defoe are Sunderland's saviours, says Gary Lim
Black Cats owe their EPL survival to manager Allardyce and striker Defoe
(Patrick Van Aanholt 38, Lamine Kone 42, 55)
It wasn't love at first sight.
But when Sam Allardyce and Jermain Defoe finally clicked, the unlikely couple took Sunderland on a magic ride.
Once again, the Black Cats proved they had nine lives.
The English Premier League's escape artists were at it again, proving to be too stubborn, too resilient, as they secured survival with an emphatic 3-0 home win over hapless Everton in their penultimate game yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Newcastle and Norwich found themselves falling through the trap door, along with Aston Villa, after Sunderland's victory.
A strange pairing helped pull off this latest escape.
Allardyce, who took over the reins at Sunderland last October, is the Premiership's blast from the past.
His devotion to the long-ball game seemed outdated, simplistic and even naive in today's climate.
He also loves them big.
Central to his thinking is a big man up front, not necessarily a prolific goalscorer, but certainly someone with a physical presence and who is able to hold the ball to wait for support to arrive.
At Bolton Wanderers, he had the arm-swinging Kevin Davies, an uncompromising striker who averaged roughly a goal every five matches.
When "Big Sam" managed West Ham, he signed the giant Andy Carroll on loan, before making the move permanent.
Defoe is the antithesis of Allardyce's philosophy.
Small and agile, the 1.71m-tall marksman revolved his game around pace and predatory instincts.
The Defoe who returned from a Major League Soccer stint with Toronto FC had one final trick up his sleeve - industry.
His selfless running for Sunderland, whom he joined in January 2015, and ability to stretch opposing defences and win free-kicks around the penalty area have been instrumental to the side's survival.
It was through one such free-kick earned by Defoe that the Black Cats opened the scoring against Everton, through Patrick van Aanholt.
Defender Lamine Kone scored the other two goals.
It wasn't until a couple of months into his tenure that Allardyce saw Defoe as more than a supersub.
His faith in the former England man was duly rewarded.
The 33-year-old striker's 15 Premiership goals this season is bettered by only five other players, and he has been responsible for salvaging 14 of the club's 38 points.
"Without them (his goals), I think we would already be relegated," said Allardyce, after Defoe's injury-time penalty saved his side an away point against Stoke.
Allardyce also made inspired calls on other fronts.
The club were 19th in the standings, with only three points from their first eight fixtures, when he took charge.
He motivated the players with a quote from his predecessor Dick Advocaat, who had predicted doom for the club.
Crucially, he strengthened the team during the January transfer window with shrewd signings.
"Going into the market", he said, "was the only way we would survive."
Kone proved to be a calming influence at the back and defensive midfielder Jan Kirchhoff provided a sturdy shield in front of the defence.
Since the start of February, the side conceded just 14 goals in 14 league fixtures, compared with the 46 they shipped in the 23 games prior to that.
Attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri, who scored that stunning opening goal in the 3-2 win over Chelsea last week, was also brought in to add some much-needed zest in the final third of the pitch.
But it was Sunderland's odd couple that proved to be biggest reason the club survived in the top flight.
Big Sam and little Defoe.
Who would have thought they would hit it off in such fashion.
Black Cats alive, thanks to Defoe's fab five
Sunderland yet again secured their English Premier League status with a game to spare when they beat Everton 3-0 at the Stadium of Light yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Striker Jermain Defoe's 15 league goals played a key role in fending off relegation. Here, Press Association Sport looks at his five major contributions.
1 Nov 23, beat Palace 1-0 (A)
(Above) Defoe claimed the Black Cats' first away win of the campaign when he took advantage of defender Scott Dann's misjudgment to latch on to Billy Jones' long ball and round keeper Wayne Hennessey to score the game's only goal.
2 Jan 13, beat Swansea 4-2 (A)
The former Tottenham striker plundered a hat-trick at the Liberty Stadium as Sunderland beat the 10-man Swans 4-2 in controversial circumstances and, although he might have been given offside for each of his first two, there were no complaints about the third as he converted Patrick van Aanholt's 85th-minute cross to wrap up the win.
3 April 16, beat Norwich 3-0 (A)
If there was one game which set Sam Allardyce's men on the path to safety, it was a 3-0 victory at Carrow Road in which Defoe's 53rd-minute strike (left), which built upon Fabio Borini's first-half penalty, left the Canaries with a mountain to climb and paved the way for substitute Duncan Watmore to cement the points at the death.
4 April 30, drew 1-1 with Stoke (A)
(Left, below) On a day when derby rivals Newcastle hauled themselves out of the relegation zone with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, Defoe kept the Black Cats in touch with a nerveless injury-time spot-kick, awarded after he had been tripped by defender Geoff Cameron, to claim a 1-1 draw.
5 May 7, beat Chelsea 3-2 (H)
Perhaps the most important goal of Defoe's Sunderland career to date, he struck 20 minutes from time to snatch a 3-2 victory over Chelsea as the Black Cats twice came from behind to leave themselves on the brink of survival.