Sunderland 4 Cardiff City 0 match report: Connor Wickham on the double to fire Black Cats out of the relegation zone

Gus Poyet's team move up to 17th after the victory

Stadium of Light

“Three Little Birds”, three huge points. Sunderland’s supporters have once more turned to Bob Marley during a draining campaign: “Don’t worry,” they sang, “about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be all right.”

It was an anthem when they flirted with relegation in 2009, only to be saved on the final day of the season because of Newcastle United’s failings. This time it has looked, for the most part, like the darkest of gallows humour. In the entire campaign, until Cardiff City traveled north today, they had won three home games in the Premier League. Never mind three little birds.

It is not so difficult to find a reason for what has happened to Sunderland in the last 12 days, why they have suddenly emerged, gasping for air, when everyone assumed they had drowned in a sea of mediocrity. Of course it is about Connor Wickham.

Wickham was again the seminal player, for the third game running. In that period Sunderland have beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Cardiff at the Stadium of Light and come within a whisker of doing the same to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, denied only at the death. Those seven points are worth an absolute fortune.

In the previous 12 games, they had picked up the same number of points.

There were periods today when the home support looked on in disbelief. They still expected a calamity at the finish; the campaign has left everyone at the club spent. Even with 20 minutes remaining and their side 2-0 up and with a man advantage following the sending-off of Juan Cala, they did not truly believe Sunderland would see it through.

 

They remember life a fortnight ago. Wickham had only returned from a loan spell at Leeds United on 24 March. He had scored one goal in 37 Premier League appearances. There is much science to what the Sunderland manager Gus Poyet does, but this was a stab in the dark gamble. It was hit or bust that no one truly believed would have Sunderland on the brink of safety by the end of April. Another two points could now see them safe. They have home games against West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City in which to find them.

Wickham again sent them on their way to victory today. The turnaround from forgotten man to hero is such that the fans as yet have no song for him. He did not take the Championship by storm on his loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and then Elland Road. He said on Thursday that something had just clicked. It clicked twice against the apology that was Cardiff.

It was a clever first goal, that of a player reborn, in the 26th minute. Wickham met a corner from Seb Larsson that bounced in front of him and steered his header into the far corner of David Marshall’s goal, but do not overlook the pitiful defending of Kévin Théophile-Catherine. He was not alone on that score. With the first half due to finish, Cala’s first touch as he headed towards his own goal was awful and Wickham was onto it and past him. Cala began his foul outside the penalty area, but it was so poor that he failed to bring Wickham down.

The offence continued but referee Phil Dowd waved play on. Marshall then threatened to bundle the Sunderland forward over as he was forced away from goal. Dowd recalled play, awarded Sunderland a penalty and sent off the defender (“the best decision I have ever seen in my life,” Poyet would later say).

When Fabio Borini coolly slotted home from the penalty spot, the game was over. When it had finished, Cardiff had managed one shot on target.

The substitute Emanuele Giaccherini slid in a fine third goal for Sunderland and with four minutes remaining Wickham once again proved too much for a Premier League defence, heading Giaccherini’s left-wing corner past Marshall.

“I said the thing needed a shock,” added Poyet. “Connor. Simple as that. Today he scored two headers. The first goal was at the top, top level. It was outstanding. We are getting the breaks, right at the right time. It is easy for me to pick the team now.

“We have done nothing. There is still games to play. Everything can change. We have put ourselves in a great situation. We talk about miracles. In two weeks’ time, I hope to be here saying  miracles happen. It has been the most strange, unexpected and incredible season I have ever seen.”

Fourteen coachloads of fans had left Wales in the early hours of the morning. They must have wondered what for.

“Of course we have taken a big blow,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Cardiff manager. “We have got two games left; we have to win both of them. We looked at this one as a possibility for three points. I’m not the type of person who sits here and complains. You have to accept the referees have to make a decision. We have big characters. They don’t sulk. We can still do it.”

Vincent Tan, Cardiff’s owner, has scarred the club’s first season in the Premier League. “Dragons”, a nickname he tried to bestow upon the Bluebirds, never looked more ill-fitting than with the passionless outfit from South Wales. There was no fire, no desire. It will take a miracle to save them now. At least Poyet and Sunderland will offer one crumb of comfort. You should never stop believing.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions