Sunderland were able to name an unchanged team for once after the slightly more encouraging performance last week against Birmingham. Could The Lads dig deep finally turn it all round with a win over struggling Wigan at the Stadium of Light? Major injuries to Richardson, Mensah, Bramble, Gordon, Campbell dictated the home line-up:
Sunderland: Mignolet, Elmohamady, Turner, Onuoha, Bardsley, Henderson, Cattermole, Colback, Sessegnon, Gyan, Welbeck. Subs: Carson, Zenden, Malbranque, Muntari, Riveros, Meyler, Ferdinand
Wigan: Al Habsi, Gohouri, Alcaraz, McCarthy, Gary Caldwell, Watson, N'Zogbia, Cleverley, Boyce, Rodallega, Diame. Subs:Kirkland, Thomas, Di Santo, Moses, Gomez, Sammon, Stam
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
There was further heartbreak for Steve Bruce and the home fans after just 10 min. as Phil Bardsley was stretchered off with what appeared to be a neck injury. Just 15 minutes later there was another forced substitution when Danny Welbeck pulled up. Ferdinand and Malbranque stepped up to the plate, but these were the major incidents in the first half which was short of goalmouth action, but nobody at the SSOL could have expected what came in the next 45, which were nothing short of sensational for the home team. There was a torrent of goals which ended the drought in spectacular fashion.
Wigan’s Diame scored a superb goal out of the blue from 30 yards after 52 min. following pretty constant Sunderland pressure. He turned Turner and found the net with no blame due to Mignolet, who had no chance at all. Now there was a chance for Sunderland to show some character; they do not have a good record against Wigan.
And it did not take long for a dynamic response, Gyan heading home powerfully from a Malbranque cross just 3 min. later, to make a statement that he is still around and leading the attack! This was so important for the injury-battered team’s morale, but further disaster for the Black Cats came when Gyan broke into the Wigan box and pulled up with a hamstring injury; another stretcher was called. What a curse, with now virtually a full team out with injury…
But somehow local hero Jordan Henderson dug deep to come up with an stunning shot to force the ball into the top left hand corner of the Wigan net – AMAZING! Then it all got even better after 72 min. when a foul on Muntari led to a penalty which was effortlessly converted low by Sessegnon who finally notched his first for the Lads. The Frenchman deserved it, he had hit the woodwork in away games against both Everton and Birmingham, and looks a talented January buy.
The game was not over, though and Henderson brought huge relief to some maybe disbelieving home fans at the SSOL with a fourth after a sweet finish from inside the box after a Sessegnon pass. Wigan pulled back a late second for them as Moses crossed for sub. Franco Di Santo to slide home at the far post – his first goal for the club.
A 6-goal second half then, and an incredibly welcome first win since January then, the only victory in 10, and this was just great for the team’s morale, a victory for passion and spirit over all the recent injury adversity. Being in relegation trouble feels like walking through mud, it is like being dragged down with every step and everything feels like an effort, but a win like this lifts everybody. Even with more forced changes the team can look forward to the next home game versus Fulham, and the news from the club after the game is that Phil Bardsley is up and about.
Overall a great team performance, with several players, especially Cattermole and Henderson, at the top of their game. Sunderland were relegated on 40 points in 1996-7, and now are in 10th place in the Premiership on 41 with 4 games left. All thoughts of the fizzy pop league can now be banished from the dressing room, and as a club we can look upwards, not downwards, and take control of our own destiny. The players can now play without fear of being sucked into the mire below them, and crack on with finishing off the season as they started. There will be plenty of “squad” players who will be looking to impress Steve Bruce ahead of next season.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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