Flying N'Zogbia exposes fears for Sunderland

Sunderland 1 Wigan Athletic 2
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The Independent Football

A terrific goal settled a terrible game and, to add to the pain of Sunderland's supporters, it was scored by a former Newcastle player, Charles N'Zogbia.

The Frenchman raced more than half the length of the pitch in the final moments of the first half to give Wigan the lead for the second time.

On this occasion, Steve Bruce's team rarely looked like relinquishing it as they coped capably with Sunderland's unimaginative attempts to break them down.

Wigan are virtually guaranteed another year in the Premier League and, such is the nature of the top flight, are now eyeing a Uefa Cup place. Bruce said: "A club like Wigan needs to win 10 games in a season, and we've achieved that target. We had gone six or seven weeks without a victory and you can't do that in this league. We've been a bit unlucky in those games, but we needed this win."

After 100 days of Ricky Sbragia's reign, Sunderland's future is far less assured, and they remain nine points adrift of their manager's survival target.

They are points that will be difficult to locate unless they improve on this performance, which left them with only two points from their past four games.

Sbragia offered no excuses. "Did we deserve a draw? I don't think so," he said. "That is the worst we have played since I've been in charge."

It soon started to go wrong for them here. Wigan, creators of just one goal in their previous five matches, were ahead from the 12th minute when Ben Watson (below) was allowed too much leeway on the fringes of the Sunderland area before he beat Marton Fulop with a casual swing of his right foot.

Despite forcing Wigan's goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland, to produce three excellent saves, Sunderland increasingly frustrated their fans by continuing to misfire until Grant Leadbitter levelled in the 41st minute. Only playing because of Kieran Richardson's suspension, Leadbitter collected a loose ball outside the area and skirted round one tackle before poking the ball past Kirkland.

Wigan regained the lead in stoppage time in memorable style. N'Zogbia gained possession 10 yards inside his own half and, with Tal Ben Haim trailing, charged into the area before beating Fulop with a cool finish.

Bruce said: "It was a great goal, but I don't think anybody has ever questioned his ability."

Sunderland's attempts to equalise once again were untidy and unconvincing, and only saves by Fulop from Paul Scharner and Watson prevented further Wigan goals that would have added to the depression of the Sunderland fans, who were streaming away long before the end.

"I think the vast majority of them thought they just had to turn up and they would beat Wigan," Bruce said.