As they roared the scores in from those around them in relegation country, it quickly became clear that this was Sunderland's best day of the season so far. Not only did they record a fourth successive home win in the Premier League, featuring a third consecutive clean sheet, Roy Keane's side saw rivals such as Bolton, Reading and Fulham lose elsewhere. Throw in the fact Wigan were the losers at the Stadium of Light and Newcastle lost at Aston Villa, and this was a cartwheel afternoon on Wearside.
Nor was that the end of the good news. This win was achieved with many injuries, and Craig Gordon made two impressive late and decisive saves. There was also a 16-minute debut from the new £4 million signing, Andy Reid, and a grand first pass from him that set up Daryl Murphy for a spectacular 30-yarder that sealed the points.
And that was not the end of it either, because Sunderland also finally got some luck. They have bemoaned theirs all season as legitimate-looking goals against Aston Villa and Reading were not given, but Sunderland saw Wigan hit the woodwork twice early in the second half yesterday while Dean Whitehead cleared a Michael Brown effort off the line.
Dickson Etuhu, with his first goal for the club, had headed Sunderland in front after 42 minutes, so the 46th-minute header from Emile Heskey on to the crossbar and the shot from Kevin Kilbane that smacked a post were turning-point incidents.
"Sometimes the game's cruel," said Steve Bruce, Wigan's manager. "I think we've done enough to win the game. On their first goal I can't see how the ref has given a free-kick, and then their second's a wonder goal. But for me, we were the better team, we showed great spirit, there was nothing wrong with the performance." Keane did not dispute that his side "rode our luck. But I think we've maybe earned that. Brucey will feel slightly unlucky and I couldn't argue with that."
No game is all about luck, however, and Sunderland had stout performances from Jonny Evans and Nyron Nosworthy at centre- half, while Whitehead grew into his task as the match progressed. By the end he looked like a confident captain again. Initially, Whitehead was as anxious as the rest in a crowded pinball midfield. Had Roy O'Donovan converted Murphy's third-minute cross rather than clipping the bar, the afternoon might have expanded before it did. Instead it was as tight as might have been expected between two teams at the bottom, though Wigan should have been buoyed by their two 3-0 victories over Sunderland earlier this season.
Thus when Brown appeared to pull back Phil Bardsley allowing Whitehead to aim for the far post, Etuhu's unchallenged header was a breakthrough moment in more than one sense for Sunderland. But the next half hour was all about Wigan's attack. With Jason Koumas on and lively, Brown, Heskey and Kilbane, twice, were all so close. An equaliser and Sunderland might have imploded. But Evans, in particular, stood out while Wigan were unlucky.
Then on came Reid, obviously overweight but with a fine first touch. He used it to feed Murphy who, cutting in from the right, used his gifted left foot to drill a superb shot that Chris Kirkland's fingertips could not stop.Reuse content