Scroll to Photostream above left for match photos. Scroll down for manager reactions.
Steven Fletcher’s first-half double and some desperate second-half defending proved enough for Sunderland to claim a 3-2 victory at Wigan Athletic.
Martin O’Neill’s men looked to be cruising home at the break after they had replied to David Vaughan’s early own goal with a Craig Gardner penalty followed by Fletcher’s impressive one-two.
But after on-loan Manchester United man Angelo Henriquez netted with a far-post header 11 minutes from time, Sunderland needed to show plenty of defensive resolve to retain their advantage, sending Wigan sliding back into the relegation zone of the Barclays Premier League.
The early signs were not good for Sunderland, who went behind after just four minutes thanks to Vaughan’s own goal. Ronnie Stam met Jean Beausejour’s cross with a weak shot straight into the ground, but when James McCarthy flicked the ball into Vaughan, the midfielder could only prod it past Simon Mignolet and over the line.
O’Neill’s men soon shrugged off the disappointment. Emmerson Boyce fouled Adam Johnson and the free-kick was blocked by McCarthy with his elbow as he jumped to defend Sebastian Larsson’s shot. Craig Gardner kept his cool to send Ali Al Habsi the wrong way from the spot and, within three minutes, the visitors were in front.
Alfred N’Diaye was the architect, peeling out to the left flank before crossing deep to Fletcher, who quickly volleyed home from close range after Al Habsi had repelled his initial header.
Fletcher then doubled the lead. Getting the slightest of touches to Gardner’s deep free-kick, Fletcher was on hand when Johnson knocked it back to curl home a first-time shot as Al Habsi remained rooted to the spot. It was his sixth in seven games against Wigan and was what Sunderland’s dominance deserved.
Wigan returned in the second half in more positive mood and Shaun Maloney drew an excellent save out of Mignolet after racing on to James McArthur’s flick. Maloney drifted a shot just beyond the far post not long after the hour.
Fletcher came close to an own goal when he stuck out a leg and sent Jordi Gomez’s free-kick spinning onto the top of his own crossbar. With Maloney also hitting a post with a curling free-kick, the hosts could class themselves unlucky.
However, they were living very dangerously at the back and with a touch more composure, Stephane Sessegnon would have wrapped up victory. As it was, the hosts still had hope when Henriquez was introduced and the on-loan Manchester United man quickly netted his first goal in English football as Maloney seized on some slack Sunderland defending and delivered a perfect far-post cross.
Wigan piled forward in search of an equaliser, with substitute Walter Espinoza impressive. But for all their hard work, it would not come, with Mauro Boselli nodding their best chance over.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "We never take anything for granted. If we had done that we would never have had eight seasons at this level. Today we weren't good enough defensively for 30 minutes. We need to rectify that. Ivan Ramis' injury last week cost us today's points. That is something I need to correct.
“I was pleased that [signings Roger Espinoza and Angelo Henriquez] didn't seem like new players. They looked like they knew exactly what they were doing. Roger is someone with great energy, which he compliments with a real style in possession. Angelo is a goalscorer and to score a goal on your Premier League debut is a great boost for his career."
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: “It was a really big win for us. After going a goal behind early on it was almost as if there was a hangover from Tuesday night, but having said that we responded brilliantly. We got the penalty, but before that there was decent play. Alfred had a shot go over the bar and the equaliser looked like it might come. When we got it, we played some brilliant football and put ourselves 3-1 in front.
“I would have preferred to come out in the second half and make the game a little more comfortable but that wasn’t the case. We had problems with Wigan last year and they set up to cause us the same problems. Wigan were dangerous – [Simon] Mignolet made some great saves when they kept pressing and we were on the back foot, but on the break we looked like we could put the game beyond them. They showed great heart and determination to get the goal back but fortunately we saw it through. It was all hands to the pump at the end and I am delighted with the result.
“The support for the football club is fantastic. They’ve come in their droves to watch us in freezing conditions and they were magnificent. They took the whole end behind the goal and supported the team right through – it was unbelievably encouraging.”
|29 Jan 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Southampton (H)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Reading (A)|
|02 Mar 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|17 Mar 2013||v Newcastle (H)|