Wigan Athletic 2
With four of their next five matches against Champions’ League challengers this was a vital win for Roberto Martinez’s side. The victory took Wigan off the bottom and within touching distance of a Sunderland side plummeting fast. It’s now just two homes win in sixteen for manager Steve Bruce who was roundly booed at the end and urged to go by the home crowd. With games against Wolves and Blackburn next on the calendar finding someone to put the ball into the net is a priority, as otherwise Sunderland will be relegated.
The Wearsiders should have wrapped the game up in the first half an hour. They took the lead when Ali Al Habsi spilled Nicklas Bendtner’s shot and even though the keeper then did well to block Kieran Richardson’s follow-up shot he had no chance when the ball ran loose to allow Sebastian Larsson to score his fourth League goal of the season. Credit must go to the Wigan custodian who then put his mistake behind him to produce a good performance saving neatly from Richardson, performing heroics to keep out a Wes Brown header and touching away John O’Shea’s header before half-time. An unmarked Phil Bardsley, the Sunderland fullback blasting high and wide from eight yards out should then though have beaten him.
This proved a costly miss as on the stroke of half-time Wigan drew level when Larsson stepped a little too close to Victor Moses and from the resulting penalty Jordi Gomez gave Wigan’s 200 travelling fans something to cheer.
The away side improved in the second half and for much of it their better passing had them in control. Yet it was Sunderland who carved out the only real chance but Richardson failed to direct a lovely Jack Colback cross home. However in added time Wes Brown was guilty of failing to clear quickly enough and suffered when substitute James McArthur nudged him off the ball and then squared it for Franco Di Santo to push home into an empty net. This was the queue for huge celebrations amongst the Wigan staff and fans.
In comparison the home fans – rightly – hurled abuse at their manager who appears to believe that the on-loan signing of Bendtner will somehow prove good enough to replace the centre-forwards he’s lost in recent years such as Kenwyne Jones, Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan. The big Dane though appears to have no appetite for a challenge and rarely appears in the box. As regards some of the other signings then one of the worst is John O’Shea who simply left Larsson all afternoon to deal with Moses, can’t pass accurately over 15 yards and generally went missing for most of the match.
In the middle of midfield Bruce seeks to play two holding players in Colback and Lee Cattermole, neither of who has yet to score a goal for Sunderland. In the summer the Wearsiders allowed Jordan Henderson to depart to Liverpool, a figure of £20 million apparently being too much to refuse even though in reality the sum received was £14 million as Sunderland had to then spend £6 million replacing the departing youngster with Craig Gardner, who has hardly started a game. Without Henderson Sunderland lack pace and enthusiasm and his going had been a very big loss.
That wouldn’t be the case if Bruce also departed. When he was appointed Niall Quinn said that the former Manchester United man was “perfect’ for Sunderland as he “understood the northeast.” It was a view I found difficult to equate because if really true then as a Newcastle lad he wouldn’t have taken the job, and when he later said he had never watched a local Derby match between the sides then it was clear Quinn’s statement didn’t stack up.
If he ‘understands’ then why does Bruce suggest we should somehow be grateful for the fact that he took us to tenth in the League. Sunderland has won the League six times, it might be a good many years ago but it’s still a fact. A decade ago we finished seventh twice in a row, and Peter Reid’s side was a lot better than anything Bruce has assembled. Just because we’ve had shit sides for many years does not make him some sort of Messiah, and he was just lucky as I still maintain that Sunderland were ‘only five minutes’ away from going down last season as if Wigan had held on to their 1-0 lead for five more minutes at the Stadium of Light in March then they would have won the match and sent Sunderland into free fall. That is conjecture, what is not is the ridiculous comments earlier this week from Phil Bardsley, a full-back of limited talent who suggested that the criticism Bruce – and the team – have endured was because Sunderland fans feel we should see our side challenging for the Title or a Champions League place. It would certainly be nice to see us do so – and after all we are the only ‘big’ club never to qualify for Europe by finishing high enough in the League to do so – but I’ve not met any Sunderland fan that believes what Bardsley was suggesting.
However we do expect - given the resources the club has at their disposal to see better players than the likes of Bardsley playing for Sunderland, and O’Shea and Bendtner, Cattermole, Richardson. So do us a favour Phil and take a trip back to your beloved Manchester United with Mr Bruce and take O’Shea and Richardson with you.