Bruce in clover after Sunderland transform season in 10 minutes
Sunderland 4 Wigan 2
Monday 25 April 2011
The Stadium of Plight? It seemed that way, 62 minutes into this pivotal contest between two of the Premier League's endangered species, when Asamoah Gyan pulled up clutching his left hamstring. Steve Bruce turned from the touchline and buried his face in his hands. The stretcher-bearers ran on to claim another Sunderland casualty.
Phil Bardsley had departed after three minutes with an oxygen mask strapped to his face after being knocked out in an accidental clash of heads with Nedum Onuoha. Danny Welbeck had hobbled off in a hamstrung state in the 25th minute.
Bruce's ill-fated Black Cats – desperate for points after a run of eight defeats and one draw in nine games, and with six players already out injured – had 28 minutes to play without a recognised striker. At least Gyan had headed them on level terms in the 55th minute, after Mohamed Diame put Wigan ahead with a 25-yard pile-driver. Still, the omens did not look great – until, out of the blue, along came a 10-minute purple patch to disperse the relegation clouds on Wearside.
First, Sulley Muntari played the ball in from the left and Jordan Henderson crashed a left-foot strike past Ali al-Habsi. Then Stéphane Sessegnon (like Muntari, a January transfer window acquisition in the wake of Darren Bent's shock departure) was bundled over by Antolin Alcaraz and the Benin international made it 3-1 via the penalty spot. Finally, for good measure, Sessegnon teed up Henderson for Sunderland's fourth.
The lifting of the pressure was palpable. Three big goals in 10 minutes and the Stadium of Delight was rocking to the sound of Three Little Birds. "Don't worry 'bout a thing," the home fans chorused, Bob Marley-style.
Don't worry? After the final whistle, and Franco di Santo's injury-time consolation goal, Sunderland were up into 10th position with 41 points, seven clear of Wigan, who dropped back to third from bottom. Bruce, however, was simply thanking his overdue turn of fortune.
"Someone gave me a four-leaf clover," the Sunderland manager said, producing the item from his jacket pocket.
"Apparently she gave it to Peter Reid 10 years ago when Sunderland finished seventh. Bless her. She was here with her husband. I don't know who they are but I thank them for this win.
"I went through every emotion you can think of out there. Everyone could see my reaction when Gyan went off. I thought, 'Here we go again.' Even though we won and I got a great response from the players, it is just so frustrating that we have had so many injuries. We need to look at why it is happening.
"If it had not gone for us today, without a recognised striker, and four games still to play, we would all have been getting very twitchy."
As for Wigan, they still have a fight on their hands. "We need to move on," their manager, Roberto Martinez, said. "In the last four games we need to get at least seven points."
Scorers: Sunderland Gyan 55, Henderson 66, 77, Sessegnon 72 pen Wigan Diame 52, Di Santo 90. Substitutes: Sunderland Ferdinand 6 (Bardsley, 4), Malbranque 7 (Welbeck, 25), Muntari 7 (Gyan, 64). Wigan Moses 5 (McCarthy, 68), Stam (Boyce, 75), Di Santo (N'Zogbia, 84). Booked: Sunderland Cattermole. Wigan G Caldwell, Alcaraz.
Man of match Cattermole. Match rating 8/10. Possession: Sunderland 51% Wigan 49%. Attempts on target: Sunderland 7 Wigan 7.
Referee L Probert (Gloucs) Att 39,650.
BATTLE TO AVOID THE DROP
* Birmingham City
Sunday Wolves (h); 7 May Newcastle United (a); 15 May Fulham (h); 22 May Tottenham (a)
* Blackburn Rovers
Tonight Manchester City (h); Saturday Bolton (h); 7 May West Ham (a); 14 May Manchester United (h); 22 May Wolves (a)
Saturday Stoke City (h); 7 May Spurs (a); 14 May Bolton (h); 22 May Manchester United (a)
* Wigan Athletic
Saturday Everton (h); 7 May Aston Villa (a); 14 May West Ham United (h); 22 May Stoke City (a)
Tomorrow Stoke City (a); Sunday Birmingham (a); 8 May West Brom (h); 14 May Sunderland (a); 22 May Blackburn (h)
* West Ham United
Sunday Manchester City (a); 7 May Blackburn (h); 15 May Wigan (a); 22 May Sunderland (h)
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