Sunderland finally come good, with Reading in trouble

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The Independent Online

Relief. One year and nine days into the tenure of a Premier League manager and the emotion was huge. Martin O'Neill needed a victory. He got one.

O'Neill has been well supported by the Sunderland owner, Ellis Short, through their poor run of form, as well as by the supporters who have not wanted to turn on O'Neill and have not.

Short had toured the press room before last night's game, his backing for the manager he appointed unwavering. How significant the applause which followed Sunderland off the field on Saturday, after they had again been defeated, by Chelsea.

O'Neill signed two players for significant fees in the summer. Steven Fletcher scored another excellent goal last night, after James McClean had given Sunderland a third-minute lead. Stéphane Sessègnon added a third in added time. Adam Johnson, before he limped off, again showed improvement. Danny Rose, the full-back signed on loan from Spurs in the summer, was once more excellent. It is why O'Neill keeps asking for time.

The Northern Irishman could not have wished for a more positive start. After less than three minutes Sunderland had taken the lead. There was a look of disbelief from the Sunderland manager as he bounced around his technical area, but his eyes had not deceived him. A corner had been cleared only as far as McClean and the Republic of Ireland winger drilled a low, left-footed shot into the bottom corner of the Reading goal.

From there Sunderland looked to build. Reading have failed to win a game away from home in the Premier League since 2008. It was easy to see why. Within two minutes of the goal, Seb Larsson had played a neat one-two with Fletcher, carried on with his run and struck a shot from 20 yards that Adam Federici did well to save to his left. By the eighth minute, Johnson had drilled a shot into the side-netting. Sessègnon shot wide from the edge of the penalty area and by the 28th minute the lead had been doubled.

Rose did well down the Sunderland left with a brief, surging run, from which he crossed low and there was still plenty for Fletcher to do, but the forward cleverly dragged the ball with his left foot, while facing away from goal, beyond Federici.

Sessègnon was denied by Federici after a neat, first-time shot and McClean drew another tidy save from the Reading goalkeeper in the 78th minute. Simon Mignolet had tipped a Nick Shorey free-kick to safety before then, and at the close he denied Noel Hunt before Sessègnon finished the job for Sunderland.