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Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet Championship

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Hot Takes! “Back to winning ways ahead of an important week for Sunderland!”

Saturday’s gutsy victory over Wigan was the perfect tonic after a disappointing loss at Swansea, and with two big games to come we’ve given ourselves a real shot of momentum.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tension released, three points banked, and some probing questions answered in emphatic fashion by Sunderland’s young squad.

At this stage the Championship table is so congested that one victory can catapult a team into a position of real strength, and with this victory that is exactly what we did.

0-0 draws against Preston and Blackpool had been followed by a sloppy away defeat to Swansea, but against Wigan on Saturday, Tony Mowbray’s players delivered when it mattered for their head coach and the 37,000 in attendance ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Blackburn and next Saturday’s visit of Burnley.

After recent results there were some glaring issues to be faced. Had we been ‘worked out’ in the absence of a frontline striker? Was there too much guile and not enough physicality in midfield, and was it time to drop the likes of Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton?

This was by no means a season-defining game but it was certainly an occasion on which the result was paramount, and for the first time our young squad took to the field with a degree of pressure on their shoulders, so could they handle it?

The first half, played out in swirling wind and driving rain, was reminiscent of the League One arm wrestles of years gone by. Wigan wanted to spoil the game with time-wasting and niggly fouls, whereas we wanted to play football, and the result was something of a stalemate.

There was plenty of attacking intent from the Lads - propelled by the outstanding Patrick Roberts but the breakthrough didn’t come - and when James McClean, Nathan Broadhead and Charlie Wyke combined to put the visitors 0-1 up on the stroke of half time there was a familiar sense of deja vu among the crowd.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Despite that knock, the second half was a much more potent mixture of incisive attacking play and urgency in and around the box as the players came out firing.

We absolute battered the visitors for the majority of it, and when Elliot Embleton slotted home the equaliser the entire mood changed. Suddenly the belief was back, and as Sunderland continued to press forward, it felt as though a second goal was coming - it was simply a matter of when.

The winner, a thunderous diving header from Dennis Cirkin after an accurate cross from Alex Pritchard, was fitting in more ways than one.

It was Cirkin’s first Sunderland goal on his fiftieth appearance for the club, and provided evidence that in the absence of Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms other players are willing to step up, dive in where it hurts and contribute on the scoring front.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Despite being hindered by a wretched refereeing performance, this was a significant victory for us.

Individually there were a multitude of superb displays - not least from Cirkin, Roberts and Pritchard (who was back to his game-changing best) but also from Aji Alese, whose stock continues to rise with every game he plays.

When we signed Alese from West Ham there were many Hammers fans left stunned at his departure, and we’re finding out why. He’s a dominant figure at the back with an admirable fondness for marauding forward runs, and he is rapidly becoming a hugely influential figure at the club.

Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Another player who deserves immense credit is Amad, whose introduction gave us some extra impetus in both attack and defence.

Despite his reputation as an exciting forward option, the Manchester United loanee is curiously hesitant in front of goal, something that can doubtless be rectified with time.

But, his attitude and work rate were both exceptional at the weekend and he played a major role in the second half.

After hauling ourselves up to ninth place in the league, our mini-Lancashire odyssey continues with tomorrow night’s visit to Ewood Park and a clash with Mowbray’s former team, who are looking more than competitive under ex-Newcastle forward Jon Dahl Tomasson.

Sunderland have ridden the recent mini-storm and are a mere five points off the summit of the table.

The games are coming thick and fast, but in contrast to our previous Championship campaign of 2017/2018 we seem far better equipped to deal with the inevitable setbacks and disappointments.

Resilience and team spirit are two of our key qualities, and we clearly have a plentiful supply of both.


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