Vindication for Tony Mowbray, proof that this squad is good enough to compete at this level, and a test of character that was emphatically passed by our young and exciting team.
This victory over a dismal Wigan side was another huge step forward for Sunderland as this Championship season grows ever more exciting. You can’t argue against the potential and the sheer ability of the team, nor can you argue against goals and football of this quality, either.
Pre-match, rotation was the buzzword, as in came Edouard Michut, Abdoullah Ba and Bailey Wright, with Ross Stewart and Patrick Roberts on the bench and Alex Pritchard back in the squad. Also prevalent was the well-known ‘Wigan factor’ - James McClean, Max Power, false rivalries and all of that.
In fairness, the changes weren’t entirely unexpected, but although short on physicality, it was certainly an exciting-looking starting eleven. The big question was, could they make the most of the opportunity?
The early stages were frenetic but reasonably cagey, and a heavy tackle from Abdoullah Ba on Charlie Hughes was fortunate to go unpunished, as the young midfielder clattered into Hughes on the edge of the Wigan area. A minute later, Edouard Michut, who was showing some neat touches, was chopped down by none other than McClean, who was duly booked.
After some promising forays into the Wigan half, Sunderland’s breakthrough came shortly afterwards, and it was courtesy of Ellis Simms.
The on-loan Everton striker was in the right place at the right time to tap the ball home after Jamie Jones’ save. It was his seventh goal of the season, and although not his most spectacular, it was certainly crucial.
At this stage, we were starting to play with real confidence, and having ditched some brief flirtations with aimless long balls, the football was becoming more free-flowing and expansive.
The dangerous Amad was starting to see more of the ball, and Wigan’s physical threat wasn’t finding a great deal of success. At the back, Dan Ballard was continuing his impressive form since returning from injury, patrolling his territory with the minimum of fuss.
As the half wore on, we were certainly on top, and a thunderous challenge from Trai Hume on McClean was met with a roar of approval from the travelling fans. At the other end, Amad almost capped off a superb team move but his fierce shot struck the crossbar after some lovely interplay between himself, Simms and Ba.
Unfortunately, Wigan only needed one chance to level the game, and it was a goal that was certainly avoidable.
Simms lost the ball too easily, and Will Keane was on hand to bring the home side back into the contest after Anthony Patterson failed to hold Thelo Aasgard’s well-struck shot. It was a cheap goal to concede, and it came at a time when we really should’ve had the game under firm control, but 1-1 was the half time score.
No changes were made by Mowbray ahead of the second half, and with 4,500 fans to aim for, the motivation should’ve been very high.
There was an early scare when Amad went down injured, but he was soon back on his feet, and a heavy touch from Simms cost him when he found himself in a promising position.
As the second half unfolded, there was little goalmouth action of note, but Wigan were noticeably improved and the game was becoming increasingly frenetic. A speculative effort from Ba sailed over the bar, and a last-ditch challenge from Luke O’Nien snuffed out a chance at the other end.
The hour mark brought changes, as Stewart, Pritchard (who lasted all of ten minutes before exiting with an injury) and Patrick Roberts entered the fray, and it yielded an instant result.
Roberts won a penalty after a jinking run, which was dispatched by Stewart via the inside of the post, for 2-1. After some nervy moments beforehand, it was the perfect reply, and it gave us the upper hand just when we needed it.
With five minutes left, the game was wrapped up by Sunderland in emphatic fashion with two goals of the utmost quality. First, Roberts finished off a glorious team move before Amad added the gloss with an absolutely blistering finish into the top corner for 4-1.
A brilliant night’s work, another huge victory, and we can head for Blackpool, and the first game of 2023, with real confidence. This club is moving forward again, and the ride could be very exciting!