Football Echo Verdict: Fired-up Cats make amends for Bolton fiasco

Steven Fletcher celebrates his double at Wigan
Steven Fletcher celebrates his double at Wigan
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THE QUESTION was asked over which Sunderland would grace the near-5,000 from Wearside at the DW Stadium yesterday, writes Chris Young.

Would it be the one who swept aside West Ham so comfortably in the Premier League or the one which crashed out of the FA Cup so meekly against Championship Bolton?

Well, for the opening four minutes and for a needlessly nervy finale, it was the latter.

But in the game-changing section of the first half, Sunderland reproduced the vigour and attacking potency shown against the Hammers to ultimately secure back-to-back Premier League wins for only the second time this season.

Sunderland could easily have wilted after the early blow when their inability to deal with a routine bouncing ball across the face of goal resulted in David Vaughan prodding beyond Simon Mignolet.

But they didn’t.

For the exchanges that followed, Sunderland were by far the brighter side – Alfred N’Diaye somehow heading over the top from four yards out, John O’Shea glancing an effort just wide and Steven Fletcher agonisingly unable to make contact with Adam Johnson’s cross.

The Black Cats persisted though and once they made their breakthrough thanks to eagle-eyed referee Anthony Taylor, it was one-way traffic.

Wigan looked bereft of confidence through large portions of that first half, only left wing-back Jean Beausejour offering any semblance of threat as the hosts needlessly surrendered possession or misplaced passes straight into touch.

Sunderland, by contrast, sensed blood after Craig Gardner confidently slotted home the Black Cats’ first spot-kick of the season.

With Martin O’Neill deploying a central midfield trio, with Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon providing the ammunition from inside forward roles, it gave N’Diaye the licence to roam.

The France Under-21 international told the Echo last week how he had improved the attacking-side of his game during his stint at Turkey and so it proved as he persistently looked to burst down the channels and into the area.

The cross he delivered for Fletcher’s first was a beauty, although it still required a finish of underestimated aplomb for the Scotland international to put Sunderland ahead.

Fletcher’s predatory ability for the second was even better as he nonchalantly swept home Adam Johnson’s lay-off into the top corner to move into double figures for the season.

With a two-goal half-time advantage and Sunderland attacking the end invaded by their supporters, there looked an inevitability about the outcome.

But Roberto Martinez changed his wing-back system to a flat back four in the second half and that provided the platform for Shaun Maloney to worry Sunderland from either flank.

Maloney was a real thorn after the break and only another moment on the Simon Mignolet highlight reel denied him a spot on the scoresheet.

But although there was a significant improvement from Wigan during the second half, Sunderland were too often their own worst enemies as they sat deep and invited Wigan onto them.

Seb Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon could and arguably should have put the game to bed, yet Sunderland couldn’t complain that the goal wasn’t coming when substitute Angelo Henriquez headed past Mignolet.

From then on it was a test of character for Sunderland, yet, by hook or by crook, O’Neill’s side survived to secure a crucial result.

The table doesn’t lie – a luxurious nine points now separate Sunderland from the labours of the relegation zone while there is just one keeping them out of the top half.

A haul of 15 points out of a possible 24 has suddenly made the top 10 a more than realistic possibility again.

Even more crucially, Sunderland are the only side in the bottom half with genuine forward momentum.

Twitter @youngsunecho

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