Sunderland 4 - 2 Wigan
Steve Bruce`s men banished any relegation fears with a sparkling second half display to topple Wigan that saw the team finally come to life.
The game started badly for the Black Cats. Only two minutes into the game, Phil Bardsley had to be stretchered off with a potentially serious injury after a clash of heads with Nedum Onouha. It would get worse for Sunderland, with Danny Welbeck limping off after a re-occurrence of the hamstring injury that Bruce had previously promised would keep him out of today`s game. It was hardly the glowing report for Bruce, who has been coming under pressure due to the amount of injuries the side has suffered in previous weeks, to see a player who was clearly unfit coming off injured in the first half.
Chances were sparse for each side with very little happening on the pitch. Onouha headed over from a Henderson corner and an excellent ball from Elmohamady was nearly met by Gyan well into injury time, whilst Mignolet saved well from Rodallega`s powerful drive after Cattermole was robbed. However, there was little else in what was one of the worst half`s seen in the league this season between two poor sides.
Sunderland, once again, lacked any sort of creativity and despite the tidy, solid displays from the blossoming midfield pairing of Cattermole and Colback, it looked like a moment a fluke or a moment of brilliance would settle this game.
That was exactly what happened seven minutes into the second half when Diame swelled on the ball and hit a fabulous 25 yard drive that gave Mignolet no chance. This had came, once again, after a spell of Sunderland dominance in which Al-Habsi saved well from a Gyan header and seemingly mirrored the events in the second half at Birmingham. Confidence was at an all time low.
Could we actually be relegated?
Supporters could have been forgiven for thinking Sunderland would simply roll over. But, they displayed the fight and determination that had been seldom seen since the turn of the year. They hit back three minutes later, when a poorly taken free kick, bemoaned by the fans, was quickly worked to Malbranque, whose perfectly waited cross was met by the head of Gyan, who turned the jeers to cheers.
Sunderland now had the momentum, but they suffered a major blow when Gyan pulled up after chasing a loose ball. With their main striker gone, Sunderland`s chances were seemingly over with a makeshift strikeforce of Sessegnon and Malbranque having to lead the line. However, no one could have predicted what would happen next.
Henderson, who had looked drained of confidence and lost on the wing in the previous system, was now operating as the attacking force in a midfield trio including Colback and Cattermole and had the freedom he had been crying out for. He would get the second, with Muntari picking his run and allowing him to smash the ball inside Al-Habsi`s near post.
But, they did not sit back. Some good work again, by the improving Muntari, got Sessegnon in who was clearly bundled over by Alcaraz for a blatant penalty. Sessegnon stepped up and coolly slotted the ball home to all but seal victory. However, there was still time for Sessegnon to tee up Henderson who bagged his second and Sunderland`s fourth, and although Di Santo grabbed a late consolation, there was no way back and Sunderland had secured a vital win.
Sunderland`s relegation fears are now almost certainly banished. Steve Bruce`s men move back up to tenth in the league, but there are still question marks over the remaining games, especially considering the side now lacks an established striker. However, it was still a great afternoon for the Black Cats. Bruce`s local lads finally showed the fight that and determination that was required from them, and combined with the steel of Cattermole and skill of Sessegnon, made for a tasty prospect. The rest of the season will certainly be interesting. Can we carry this momentum for the rest of the year?