Sunderland came from behind in the second half this afternoon at the Stadium of Light, beating a well-organised Wigan side by two goals to nil thanks to goals from Elliot Embleton and Dennis Cirkin.
Despite some awful officiating, sh*thouse tactics from the away side and a goal from ex-mackem Charlie Wyke in the first half, Tony Mowbray’s team rallied in the latter 45 to ensure that all three points came our way for the first time since beating Reading a month ago, and for the first time on home soil since we beat Rotherham in August.
The victory moves us up to ninth in the Championship table, just five points behind leaders Burnley who we face next weekend at Turf Moor.
We rave about the #EPL but when it comes to a competitive league nothing beats the Championship. Look at the current league table. Just 7 points separate leaders Burnley & Sheff Utd from 18th place Cardiff. This is how the old 1st Division used to be before Big Money took over. pic.twitter.com/yAsj2qEGRC— Neil Clark (@NeilClark66) October 15, 2022
Arriving in my seat earlier than usual in order to take part in the pre-match celebrations for Niall Quinn — the Sunderland legend who played his last game at the Stadium of Light almost twenty years ago — the atmosphere inside the ground was buoyant, mainly due to the presence of so many of our former players in the Wigan squad.
There were five in total, and all of them featured during the game - though only one, Charlie Wyke, managed to get on the scoresheet.
Amongst the other starters were James McClean (who was given the type of reception we’ve unfortunately come to expect), Max Power and Nathan Broadhead, whilst Ashley Fletcher was named amongst the substitutes.
Sunderland’s team was largely the same - only the enforced change of the banned Corry Evans for the returning Dennis Cirkin was the difference between the side that took on Swansea last weekend, and this one - but our shape was different, with Aji Alese moving to left wing back, Cirkin dropping into a back three alongside Batth and O’Nien, and Jack Clarke moving up top alongside Patrick Roberts.
There was no place on the bench for Abdoullah Ba, who dropped out as Leon Dajaku and Edouard Michut took the final two spots.
HERE’S YOUR #SAFC XI!— Roker Report (@RokerReport) October 15, 2022
One change, Cirkin comes in for Evans. Looks like a change to a back three, with Jack Clarke up front.
Michut and Dajaku come on to the bench, as Abdoullah Ba misses out. pic.twitter.com/ormfPVSQDP
From the off we were the better side, playing the better football and trying to force openings as Wigan remained tight and compact.
It was no surprise really that they set up in this way - they’ll have watched us against Preston and Blackpool at home recently, games where both sides managed to escape with a point and blunt our attack through slowing down the game and hurting us most from set pieces.
Last weekend, at Swansea, I felt as though we were forced to play completely in a way that made us uncomfortable, but Wigan aren’t Swansea - they were happy for us to have the ball, and that suited pretty much everyone in midfield.
Patrick Roberts, in particular, was outstanding - he was a constant menace to James McClean and Curtis Tilt down our right hand side, and from the off he caused them problems with his superb dribbling and pace.
And after a dominant opening half an hour where we seemed to do everything right but get a shot on target, Patrick Roberts found the back of the net after a lovely through ball from Alex Pritchard - but the linesman gave offside. Subsequent replays have shown that the goal should have stood, but poor officiating plagued the afternoon and this was not an anomaly.
We continued to dominate possession, but Wigan were just waiting for us to make a mistake and to make us pay - and they did just that on the stroke of half time, thanks to the combination of former Sunderland players Nathan Broadhead, James McClean and Charlie Wyke.
Broadhead - who was otherwise very quiet and barely involved - beat Luke O’Nien to the ball and fed McClean down the left hand side. His cross deflected into the path of Wyke, who made no mistake as he curled a stunning strike into the top corner to give his side the lead.
Soon after came the half time whistle, and after a smattering of bewildering boos were drowned out by the quiet applause of the majority of supporters, most of us were left wondering whether this would be another case of ‘same old, same old’ - Sunderland dominating in every area other than the one that matters most, and that’s sticking the ball in the back of the net.
Undeterred, we reemerged after the break with a positive attitude, and the enforced change of Lynden Gooch - who picked up a knock - for Amad Diallo gave us added impetus in the final third, and we made the most of it.
We didn’t have to wait long for an equaliser, and in the 54th minute it arrived thanks to a fantastic passing move which was teed up by the returning Dennis Cirkin and was finished off by Elliot Embleton, notching his first goal of the season.
Wigan’s timewasting suddenly stopped, but the referee seemed intent on disrupting the flow of the game as he made a flurry of strange decisions throughout the remainder of the game.
That didn’t put us off though, and after dominating proceedings following our equaliser, we went on to find the eventual winner - Cirkin this time turning from provider to goalscorer, diving to head the ball home at the far post after a great ball in from Alex Pritchard.
Wigan stepped up their efforts slightly as the game wore on, but never really did enough to make us worry too much as the Sunderland defence remained resolute, ably backed up by the safe hands of Anthony Patterson, who commanded his area well and helped us to see the game out - despite being bizarrely booked for timewasting by the increasingly inept Keith Stroud.
Six minutes were added on but we saw the game out, taking all three points as an enormous sigh of relief was heard ringing around the Stadium of Light at full time.
2-1, three points, job done.
We move on to the next one with a trip to Blackburn on Tuesday - a tough game, but they all are at this level. We just have to hope that the pressure we’ve felt recently following some poor results have dissipated, and instead the Lads are going into the match at Ewood Park without fear, just as they did against Wigan earlier this afternoon.