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Sunderland v Wigan Athletic - Premier League

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On This Day (29 September 2012): Fletcher is the hero again as one goal is enough to beat Wigan

Fletcher’s on fire!

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

If you were following Sunderland’s results in the first few months of the 2012-2013 season, you would be forgiven for thinking that Martin O’Neill’s men were a one man team.

In the first nine matches, Steven Fletcher’s six goals and Demba Ba’s own goal were all that the team could muster up in the early stages of the season - making it one of the biggest issues at the beginning of Martin O’Neill’s first full season at the club.

Given the positivity that surrounded our team after O’Neill’s appointment in late 2011, there was lot of anticipation surrounding going into the new season. Sunderland had spent big money.

On paper, we looked a decent side and hope was high that O’Neill would finally be the man to bring the club to the supposed ‘next level’ that Niall Quinn consistently spoke about during his tenure.

Sunderland entered this game looking to build on their solid start to the new season. After 4 consecutive draws - with two against Arsenal and Liverpool - a win here would have transformed the outlook of the club’s new season from average to hopeful.

Their opponents were Wigan Athletic and given the club’s previous results against the Latics, hopes were high that we could gain the result that we desperately aspired to achieve.

And so we did.

In a game with minimal chances throughout, it was clear that key moments and decisions would swing the game one way or another given there was very little between the two teams - and that turned out to be the case. There were three big moments that defined this game.

The first one was in the first half as the visitors probed and posed a bigger threat - with Simon Mignolet stopping superbly from Arouna Koné at point-blank range leaving Sunderland very lucky to be level at the break.

Jean Beausejour’s first-time ball across goal found Kone at the far post, but his point-blank shot was superbly denied by the Belgian giving Sunderland and the fans an opportunity to breathe a massive sigh of relief.

FBL-ENG-PR-SUNDERLAND-WIGAN Photo credit should read GRAHAM STUART/AFP/GettyImages

Arguably, the most pivotal moment came at the very beginning of the second half. As our new loanee Danny Rose charged forward with the ball, he was taken down aggressively by future Lads’ midfielder Jordi Gomez. The Spaniard was immediately given his marching orders for the challenge, plummetting the away side into disarray - and offering the momentum to O’Neill’s men.

We took full advantage of this momentum and the third big moment of the game only arrived three minutes after the red card. James McClean, who was his industrious self throughout the game, took a shot that skewed so badly it turned out to be a fantastic cross for Fletcher to score.

It certainly didn’t look like a cross but I’m sure he didn’t care as he scampered down the left towards the area before delivering a low ball towards the far post, where Fletcher raced in to smash an unstoppable drive beyond Al-Habsi and burst the Wigan bubble.

After this goal - and as the game progressed, it turned into a scrappy affair where Sunderland hung on for dear life, ensuring they got the win. The crowd was tense and edgy as they longed for a first win of the season - and when it arrived, you could really feel the proverbial weight being lifted off the shoulder.

Martin O’Neill was clearly relieved when he spoke to the media after the game:

We have the win and we are unbeaten so far this season. Steven Fletcher was fantastic, not just scoring the goal but his overall centre-forward play. He was terrific, he is a really fine player.

I am not concerned that our goals are only coming from him at the moment, but I think in time that if he is the one who continues to score for us and no-one else does then that might become a problem. A lot of others are doing good things for us in this run and it will come in time.

Having a player sent off like Wigan did today does mean you have to re-adjust. During the week in the Capital One Cup, when we lost Lee Cattermole, I am sure that gave MK Dons a major boost and I am sure that is what happened for us in this game.

Unbeaten they were but O’Neill’s concern about the team’s inability to create goal opportunities from multiple sources did become a consistent issue throughout the season until he lost his job in March 2013.

His sacking came after two home games against Manchester United and Norwich where some of the worst football I have ever witnessed in my time supporting the club was played.

In came Di Canio - and we all know how that ended!


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