SEBASTIAN Larsson thinks his goalscoring prowess has been blunted in recent months - because teams have become wise to his dead-ball talents.
When he scored his eighth Sunderland goal this season against Peterborough United in early January, the Swede was the Black Cats’ top-scorer. He had to wait until the weekend to find the net again, two goals against Manchester City earning a morale-boosting 3-3 draw against the title-chasers.
Most of Larsson’s early-season strikes came from free-kicks, and he thinks teams are more careful about committing fouls around the box with him and Craig Gardner in the opposition ranks.
“I’ve had team talks where you’ve mentioned it yourself because the opposition are very strong on set-pieces,” he said. “We haven’t really seemed to get too many in and around the box recently.
“When we had one against Arsenal (in February), which I missed, I think that was the first one for quite a while. Hopefully we can get a few more chances from free-kicks.”
Larsson’s former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is just one of the high-profile figures to describe him as the Premier League’s most deadly set-piece man this season, although his primary role has always been as a creator.
Sunderland have been fortunate this season that when one man has dropped the goalscoring baton, another has always been there to pick it up straight away.
At the start of Larsson’s dry spell, Stéphane Sessègnon came into his own in front of goal, scoring four goals in eight games at the start of 2012.
Now Nicklas Bendtner is leading the way, with four in seven since returning from a broken cheekbone.
Larsson came up through the ranks with his fellow Scandinavian at Arsenal, and the pair were loaned to Steve Bruce’s Birmingham City at the same time.
Quite apart from what he has brought on the field, Larsson thinks the on-loan Danish centre-forward has been a good addition to the Black Cats’ dressing room too.
“He’s a good lad,” he commented. “He’s the type of guy who gets involved straight away. From the first day he came he was part of the team.
“I think Nicklas is just a good guy – a fun guy, an ideal guy to have around the training ground and he fits into the dressing room perfectly.
“We’ve got a really good dressing room. The lads get on very well together and that was important when we did struggle early on in the season. We still enjoyed coming in to work and trying to make things better.”
Meanwhile, summer signing Roarie Deacon scored the goal as Sunderland’s reserves got their first point in four matches at Norwich City yesterday.
Deacon gave his inexperienced side the lead with 25 minutes left, only for Richard Brindley to equalise when the Black Cats failed to clear a corner three minutes later.
SUPPORTERS with a season ticket for next season will be allowed to buy an additional seat for the upcoming matches against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bolton Wanderers for a total of £10.
The offer is part of a new SAFC Rewards scheme of discounts, incentives and special offers for season card holders, including free access to the club’s official online TV channel, discounts at club shops, special ticket offers for family and friends, money-off vouchers for the concourse kiosks, and monthly offers and discounts for a range of hotels, restaurants and bars.
“We have been absolutely delighted by the take-up of season cards for next season,” said chief executive Margaret Byrne. “There’s a new vibrancy and impetus about the club and to see so many people believing in what we are trying to achieve here is truly heartening.”
There is expected to be huge demand for the ticket offer, so supporters are advised to secure their seats as soon as possible.