O’Neill has led the Black Cats away from the relegation zone with Sunday’s shock win over league leaders Manchester City their fourth in six matches since the departure of Steve Bruce. Any lingering relegation fears appear to have evaporated on Wearside as they ran the show in the North West putting the pressure firmly back on Roberto Martinez’s shoulders. The Latics’ good form during December put them in with a real chance of moving out of the bottom three but they fell back into old habits against Sunderland as they proved to be the architects of their own downfall on more than once occasion. Martinez will be extremely unhappy with this players and will see this defeat as a missed opportunity to move out of the bottom three as their insistence to try and adhere to his slick style of football cost them dear once again. Their attempts to play an elegant passing game is admirable but their vulnerabilities in midfield and defence were highlighted as the visitors broke at speed time and time again.
Two defeat in their last eight games had seen morale soar in the Wigan dressing room and their bright start indicated a side who were brimming with confidence. Steve Gohouri saw an early strike cleared off the line by Craig Gardner before they went onto hit the post twice in quick succession just after the half hour. Firstly David Jones struck the upright after he latched onto Albert Crusat’s pass before Ben Watson saw his stinging effort fly back off the upright. Sunderland slowly but surely started to get themselves into the game and took the lead four minutes into added on time at the end of the first half with Craig Gardner lashing a superb 30-yard-free kick past Ali Al Habsi to lay down an early contender for goal of the month. That goal gave the Black Cats a huge boost going into the break and it didn’t take them long to double their lead with young James McClean heading home at the second attempt after Al Habsi saved his initial effort. Martinez will be unhappy with midfielder Jones who cheaply gave the ball away in a dangerous area allowing David Vaughan to cross for the winger to score his first goal for the club.
Wigan’s heads didn’t drop and seven minutes they gave themselves hope of a comeback as James McCarthy found Hugo Rodallega who turned John O’Shea on the edge of the area and fired the ball past Simon Mignolet. But hopes of salvaging a point were dashed with 17 minutes to go as Nicklas Bendtner brushed aside Maynor Figueroa with ease before cross for Stephane Sessegnon who stretched to slide the ball into the net and put the game beyond doubt. It should have been four just minutes later only for Al Habsi to save smartly from McClean’s curler from 18-yards. Sunderland maintained their pressure as the clock wound down and Vaughan wrapped up the victory in style 10 minutes from time smashing the ball home to move the Black Cats into 10th.