Sunderland stumble to a draw in play-off race

Wigan Athletic 0 Sunderland 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Wigan gave West Bromwich Albion's promotion party an early start by denying Sunderland the victory that would have required Gary Megson's side to do more than simply offer hospitality to doomed Bradford at The Hawthorns.

Wigan gave West Bromwich Albion's promotion party an early start by denying Sunderland the victory that would have required Gary Megson's side to do more than simply offer hospitality to doomed Bradford at The Hawthorns.

A point left the Wearsiders, even with a game in hand, unable to catch Albion, who will join Norwich in the Premiership next season. They may yet have Sunderland for company, but only if Mick McCarthy's side qualify for and then survive the play-offs.

That target remains within Wigan's grasp, too, although their qualification looks less assured than Sunderland's. Four more points may be enough to see the latter into the top six, and home games against Crewe and a last-day visit to Burnley, sandwiching the visit of leaders Norwich to the Stadium of Light, ought to provide that at least.

Wigan, on the other hand, must travel to Nottingham Forest next Saturday and face West Ham at home on the final afternoon in a match that could decide the last play-off place. Having created the larger share of chances in an open match yesterday, they may yet regret that they could not finish any of them.

"It might be a vital point," Wigan's manager, Paul Jewell, said. "Then again, it might not be enough. Who knows? I thought we were on top in the second half so I'm disappointed we did not get three points. It says something about our performance that Sunderland were happier with a draw than we were."

Time and again, Wigan's hard-working midfield, in which Jimmy Bullard and Gary Teale were outstanding, created chances. But time and again they came to nothing. Several shots skimmed the top of Mart Poom's crossbar while Jason Roberts, the most troublesome of the strikers, always seemed to want one touch too many, hard though he tried to break the deadlock.

Then again, Sunderland's somewhat makeshift defence probably deserved a clean sheet. Early in the second half, when Roberts looked as though he was sure to score, Gary Breen hooked the ball off the line, and both he and Joachim Bjorklund, drafted in for a rare starting appearance because of injuries, made crucial interceptions.

Nathan Ellington spurned Wigan's best chance, scooping the ball over the bar from close range after more graft from Roberts, although in his defence the notoriously uneven surface at the JJB Stadium did him no favours. Claims for a penalty against Phil Babb for impeding Teale were waved away.

Wigan's goalkeeper, John Filan, had less to worry about than his opposite number Poom, but he did make one important save when John Oster curled a free-kick around Wigan's wall early in the second half.

Having seen the chance of automatic promotion blown by three defeats in a row, Sunderland's manager saw a point as welcome, much as he would have preferred three. "We did not deserve to lose two of those games but you can get into a rut so in that respect it is a good point," McCarthy said.

Comments