Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
A LATE Seb Larsson winner got the Martin O`Neill regime up-and-running in a game which the Black Cats dominated in terms of chances without ever truly putting their opponents under the cosh until the death.
Simon Vukcevic put the visitors in the lead with a far post header before David Vaughan seized the opportunity to kick-start his Sunderland career, marking just his sixth start for the club with his first goal, drilling home from the edge of the area. Seb Larsson then snatched all three points with a sublime curling free-kick at the death. Paul Robinson had kept the hosts at bay until the final 10 minutes, twice with fine saves to deny Kieran Richardson.
O`Neill made a couple of changes for his first game in charge with Titus Bramble and Connor Wickham coming in for the injured Michael Turner and Nicklas Bendtner. The suspended Lee Cattermole was replaced by Vaughan. On the bench, Matt Kilgallon, ignored by the Steve Bruce reign was handed a place amongst the substitutes.
Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean went with Michel Salgado at left back in place of Martin Olsson who was benched. Scott Dann also came in at centre-half.
The visitors took their first real chance of the game through Vukcevic. Following a free-kick down the left hand side, Chris Samba drove a right-footed cross into the centre which Westwood palmed into the Macedonian`s path to head in from inside the six yard box.
Sunderland responded with their first clear-cut chance, Kieran Richardson meeting Stephane Sessegnon`s low centre after poor defending from Jason Lowe, a poor first touch from Richardson served Robinson better and the Rovers 'keeper smothered from point-blank range.
On their next attack Richardson swept another effort goal-ward only for a block to help it out for a corner.
O`Neill`s side saw another good chance go to waste when Sessegnon slashed wide from inside the penalty area after Wickham had done well to pick out the Benin winger from the far side of the area.
Sunderland had a stroke of luck when Keiren Westwood came for a free-kick he was never likely to get, the ball floated over him to be nodded in at the far post but referee Peter Walton blew for a foul on the Irish stopper.
The Black Cats saw another good opportunity squandered just four minutes after the break when Larsson curled a free-kick just wide of the base of Robinson`s left-hand post.
David Dunn had a rare Rovers effort on goal just after the hour mark when he flashed a 40 yard half-volley narrowly over Westwood`s crossbar.
Robinson somehow prevented a stunning leveller from Richardson when he clawed away the winger`s deflected volley from the far right-hand corner of the penalty area.
Sub James McClean nearly made an instant impact when his inch-perfect centre fell to Larsson who in turn saw his fizzing half volley pushed away for a corner.
McClean`s arrival lifted the Black Cats and following a blocked shot the ball fell to Sessegnon whose bicycle kick flew narrowly over the bar.
Having been quiet for the majority of the game, Vaughan got the O`Neill reign started with six minutes to go. The ball fell to the Welsh international on the edge of the area and the former Blackpool man drilled home on his left-foot.
Deep into injury-time, O`Neill saw a point turn to three when Larsson bent home a beautiful free-kick from the left-hand side of the penalty area to continue the Ulsterman`s proud record of never having lost on his debut as manager of a club.
Rovers finished up with 10 man having made three substitutes through injury, defender Jason Lowe was stretchered off after a long delay. Best wishes to him in his recovery.
Sunderland were not at their best for long chunks of the game but created all the chances as Rovers sat back on their goal-lead. However, a lack of urgency was arrested in part by the introduction of McClean who injected the much-needed pace, guile and panache into the side. The rest is history. Sunderland are up-and-running once more and O`Neill has quickly galvanised all involved. It`s still a poor side he presides over in a lot of areas, but with spirit on the up and January just around the corner, it`s certainly looking more positive than a week ago.
Sunderland: Westwood; O'Shea (c), Brown, Bramble, Bardsley; Larsson, Colback (McClean), Vaughan, Richardson; Sessegnon; Wickham Ji).
Subs not used: Kilgallon, Meyler, Elmohamady, Noble & Carson (gk).
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson; Lowe, Samba (c), Dann, Salgado (Olsson) (Henley); Vukcevic, Pedersen, Dunn, Givet (Hanley); Yakubu & Formica.
Subs not used: Roberts, Goodwillie, Blackman & Bunn (gk).
Referee: Mr P Walton