Sunderland 2 Wigan Athletic 0: Gordon a cut above to lift Sunderland away from trouble

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Samson and Craig Gordon perhaps lacks the lyricism of Samson and Delilah but at the Biblically named Stadium of Light on Saturday, Sunderland's mascots – Samson and Delilah – watched as Gordon, shorn of his locks, rediscovered some inner strength. In a reversal of the epic tale, and of Gordon's form, few made the connection between the Scot's shaved back-and-sides and two fine late saves, but then Roy Keane entered the room and said in all seriousness: "I think the haircut helps."

There are times when Keane defies anticipation. There have been times when Gordon has not shown enough. But as Wigan pressed for a late goal at the Stadium of Light, Gordon made a reflex dart to deny Emerson Boyce that the opposing manager Steve Bruce described as "world class".

That may have been an exaggeration but Gordon prevented a goal that would have shaken the place, even with Sunderland 2-0 up. For that the crowd sang: "There's only one Craig Gordon." They have waited a while to do that.

The club's record £9m signing joined from Hearts in August but Gordon has endured some hairy experiences, such as conceding seven at Everton, and only on Saturday could he have been said to have earned Sunderland points. For that, Keane thought a haircut was partly responsible.

"I think it suits him," Keane said. "It used to help me, I used to feel leaner and sharper. Meaner. I might shave mine next week."

After Everton in November, Keane dropped Gordon for three games, taking the then 25-year-old out of a literal firing line. It is a sensitive situation for any manager and any 'keeper, but Keane said of Gordon: "There was never any doubt about his reaction. He has played for Hearts – if he can deal with that, he can deal with being left out for a month."

Gordon returned in time to let in four against Manchester United but, at home, he has been beaten only once in the league in the six hours since. Having Jonny Evans and Nyron Nosworthy together in front of him is an aid. On Saturday, the woodwork was also a colleague.

After a punt and shunt first 40 minutes, Dickson Etuhu broke the stalemate with his first Sunderland goal, a powerful header, but Wigan responded like a team threatened with demotion. Emile Heskey hit the bar, Kevin Kilbane, the post, Michael Brown had a scuff cleared off the line by Dean Whitehead.

Sunderland were rattled until, 16 minutes from time, new £4m signing Andy Reid rolled on. Admirably un-athletic, Reid's first touch was like velvet and was followed by a drilled pass across the turf to Daryl Murphy, who strode forward and lashed a euphoric 30-yarder beyond Chris Kirkland.

It took something to overshadow that, but Sunderland's fourth consecutive home win did, especially in the context of Fulham, Reading, Bolton and Wigan all losing. So, too, the individual displays of newcomer Reid and that of a seemingly revitalised, clean-cut Craig Gordon.

Goals: Etuhu (42) 1-0; Murphy (75) 2-0.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins; O'Donovan (Prica, 27), Whitehead, Etuhu (Leadbitter, 85), Murphy; Jones, Chopra (Reid, 75). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), McShane.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2) Kirkland; Melchiot (Koumas, h-t), Boyce, Scharner, Kilbane; Valencia, Palacios, Brown, Taylor (Olembe, 55); King, Heskey (Bent, 68). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Granqvist.

Referee: M Dean

Booked: Wigan Athletic Valencia.

Man of the match: Evans.

Attendance: 43,600.