SUNDERLAND’S most optimistic fans would have travelled to the Stadium of Light on Saturday expecting to wallop Wigan out of sight, writes GRAEME ANDERSON.
But the days when the Latics could be relied on to be whipping boys in this division have gone.
Wigan have been a Premier League side for eight years now, have one of the smartest young managers in the game, in Roberto Martinez, and, on Saturday were arguably the better side with 11 men and still dangerous with only 10 for the last 40 minutes.
It was something Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill was quick to accept.
“It was tight,” he said.
“Wigan came and played their part and we have to thank Simon Mignolet for making two very good saves for us in the first half before Fletcher came up with the goods again in the second.
“I’m happy to admit that the sending off of their player definitely helped us, but it didn’t become easy for us.
“It was edgy towards the end, especially when it became scrappier in the last 20 minutes, but the win was vital for us and it keeps us going.”
O’Neill agreed that the dismissal of Jordi Gomez just five minutes into the second half was the key to turning the game Sunderland’s way.
But when the second goal wouldn’t come, Sunderland began to feel the heat.
“We could easily have scored more straight after taking the lead, but, when we didn’t, it began to get more edgy towards the end,” O’Neill confessed.
Martinez could see that, too.
The Spaniard said: “We come to places like Sunderland now ready just to be ourselves, to be arrogant and expect to win the game.
“It wasn’t our day, but I didn’t think Sunderland did enough to win the football game and if we had taken our chances it would have been very interesting.
“Even at the end, my players were working really hard and I think they sensed Sunderland felt they had something to lose.”
Indeed they did, but, at the final whistle, O’Neill could reflect on a job well done, on Fletcher’s continuing rich vein of form and on England winger Adam Johnson’s return.
“The over-riding thing for me is that I’m pleased we have won the game,” he said.
“Fletcher did very well with the goal and I thought he was brilliant on the day.
“There were plenty of times he was isolated, but he was able to bring the ball down well and bring others into the game
“It was good to have Johnson back, too. He had a fitness test on the morning of the game and felt decent enough to start the game and we thought he would enthuse the crowd.
“He did well to get 70 minutes under his belt and hopefully that will stand him in good stead.”