Five clean sheets in a row, one goal conceded and a back three that has included different, effective, players in the opening six weeks of the season are all factors instrumental to Sunderland’s impressive start to the season.
And Phil Parkinson’s No 2 Steve Parkin insists it is no fluke that the Black Cats have developed a miserly streak at the back in keeping League One attacks at bay. It is what the coaching staff demand.
Goalkeeper Lee Burge has recorded the most clean sheets in the country so far to help Sunderland claim 14 points from the 18 available to them ahead of this Saturday’s visit of Portsmouth to the Stadium of Light.
Parkin said: “The key thing is that we have lots of defenders’ meetings and watch lots of videos on the opposition.
"We go through the defending we’ve had in the previous game and we also work on the training ground so the clean sheets don’t just happen, they come with a lot of hard work and dedication from the players and everybody at the club.
“It’s also not just down to the defenders and the goalkeeper, we start from the front.
"Our closing down in the last two games has been very good – it was good on Tuesday against a very technical team in Crewe, that’s the reason why we’ve been keeping clean sheets.
“When we were at Bolton, we were under severe pressure to win matches because of the expectation levels, and it's a good league with good players.
“It's a long, hard season and you have games where you don't score as many as you like, and you have to manage them to be successful.
“We firmly believe in keeping clean sheets first and foremost, and we've got a group who really buy into that.
“You can't win every game comfortably and sometimes it's about seeing it through.”
Sunderland’s 1-0 win over Crewe was hard-earned. Having controlled things for the majority of the game without converting chances, Crewe battled away in the closing stages for an equaliser but the home defence stood firm.
The influence of Grant Leadbitter just in front of the back three should be recognised too, given all of the clean sheets have coincided with his return to the side.
“We're delighted with him," Parkin said. “He's brought all his experience and know-how of the games he's played to the table.
"He tidies the mess up but does it with quality and if he can play from that area of the pitch, he does.
“His desire to do well for this club is massive, as we all know. But he's playing with a real calmness and a real composure, which sets the rest of the team nicely to play some good football.”
Sunderland’s fourth win from six unbeaten matches should have been secured in a more comfortable fashion given the number of chances created.
That is something Parkinson and his backroom staff wants Sunderland to improve on going forward.
Parkin said: “The lads in the dressing room are a little bit disappointed with the goals tally because I think some of the football that we played warranted two or three more goals.
“I think we’ve limited a good side who we’ve watched closely this season to practically nothing. We’ve had 20-odd attempts and we just need to concentrate on converting a few more of those because it made it a little bit hairy again.
“But the resilience of the boys and the way they defended was admirable at the end to make sure we got that 1-0 victory.
“I think we should highlight the quality of the crossing from Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume at times, where crosses were going into the box into good areas.
“We constantly put a good team under pressure, and managed to miss a few from close range as well.
“The evening could have been more comfortable, but sometimes these results are really satisfying, when you keep a clean sheet and see a real intensity from the lads to keep the ball out of the net.”