Pete Sixsmith did not expect to be at the DW Stadium. His original plan involved a trip to Bitton, not far from Bristol, to see Shildon in the FA Vase but he wisely changed his mind even before all Saturday’s games in the competition were called off. So he became one of the 5,000 candidates for Man of the Match at Wigan as he joined the fabulous travelling army roaring Sunderland to victory …
There was some clown on BBC Radio Newcastle this week who worked for a computer game called Football Manager or some such thing, and he predicted that the three teams to be relegated would be Reading, QPR and Sunderland.
Sunderland, he said, with all the authority a 12-year-old computer nerd who supports Nottingham Forest can muster, would finish with 39 points and go down. Newcastle, he calcuated, would finish with 49 points and end up in ninth position.
There were snorts of derision from Marco Gabbiadini and even the usually phlegmatic John Anderson was a tad critical of the 12-year-old’s assessment.
According to this boy wonder, we will now gather a mere 11 points from our final 15 games, a performance of Brucian proportions, while our neighbours will garner 28 from theirs. Hmmm.
It goes without saying that the three points that we brought back from the DW Stadium were of considerable importance, not least in that the players restored some pride after the Bolton debacle.
It also showed that we can recover after going a goal down, that we have a superb striker in Steven Fletcher and that we can gird up our loins and defend as if our lives depended on it when we really, really have to.
And we did in a second half when Wigan attacked us with a ferocity that they had reserved in the first half for unpleasant tackles on Fletcher, Johnson and Sessegnon.
We were deservedly ahead at the break, having given the Latics a head start with an unfortunate “og” from David Vaughan. Craig Gardner had been found lacking by Jean Beausejour who got behind the full back, his cross ending up at the feet of James McArthur whose shot was knocked over the line by Vaughan.
Five Thousand Sunderland fans thought “Oh dear, here we go again”, but we were level 13 minutes later when Gardner answered a question that has been puzzling us all season – “Who gets to take the pens?”. He did after James McCarthy handled a Seb Larsson free kick and he planted it firmly in the corner.
Three minutes later, a fine cross from Alfred N’Diaye was met by Fletcher. The Wigan keeper saved but the Super Scot turned it into the net to send the freezing 5,000 frantic with delight.
N’Diaye appears a good acquisition on this showing. He covered lots of ground, made some telling passes and tackles and looked like a player who would grow into the Premier League. He tired towards the end, but that is understandable; I can’t imagine that his experiences at Nancy and Bursaspor will have prepared him for the harum-scarum of the Premier League. Great song for him as well; He comes from Bursaspor, To hear the Roker Roar”. Two good songs in two weeks, lads; keep it up, but drop the offensive one about Titus, please.
Fletcher’s third was the pick of the goals. Johnson set him up well and his shot was an absolute fizzer, worthy to win any game with. He really does look a very good centre forward, with no discernible weaknesses in his game. There is just that worry that he gets injured; he came in for some rough treatment here from the likes of Caldwell Minor, Boyce and Figueroa, but got up and got on with it.
At half time, we were coasting it, the general consensus being that we needed another goal to wrap it up. As they pushed forward, there would be gaps and we could take advantage of the and we could luxuriate in a comfortable away win and look down on the many clubs who do not have the good fortune to be Sunderland.
As predicted, Wigan came at us, led by a straggly haired Honduran called Roger Espinoza. As not predicted, they did not blow themselves out after 15 minutes. They had us pushed back, but we did have two good opportunities to do that wrapping up.
A break from Larsson should have finished with a roll into the path of Johnson, while Sess got his feet all tied up after running the length of the field and allowed Caldwell Minor to clear.
In the meantime, the Sunderland penalty area resembled a medieval siege as Wigan threw everything at us. Espinoza picked the ball up deep, Maloney jinked and twisted and it was all orchestrated by McCarthy.
A goal from Henriquez made the last 11 minutes (plus an inexplicable five of added time) interesting to say the least, but O’Shea and Bramble marshalled the back four well and stood their ground, repulsing the Wigan attackers by (metaphorically) pouring boiling oil on them and tipping over their siege ladders. And when they did get through, Mignolet was there to make a couple of really telling saves.
It was a real team performance, different from last Saturday, particularly in the second half where Wigan showed much heart and no little skill. But we did not allow them an equaliser and we should take enormous satisfaction from this. If we keep on beating the teams around us (and that number is increasing all the time), we can dispel any relegation fears by the end of February.
I don’t know where the 12-year-old had Wigan finishing, but I hope they can stay out of the relegation places. It’s a good day out for Sunderland fans. The journey is straightforward, we get plenty of tickets and at a good price so parents can take youngsters and teenagers can go and throw beer around while singing songs about players they have no knowledge of.
It’s a proper town as well, with decent pubs and an absolute cracker in The Anvil, which was one of those places where just about every Sunderland fan you have seen over 40 years turns up.
In the café over the road, I ate steak pudding, chips, mushy peas and gravy, a slice of bread and marge (minus grimy fingerprint; read The Road To Wigan Pier – the famous breadcrumbs get a decent plug at Monsieur Salut’s Sunderland jottings at ESPN) – washed down with a bottle of water for £4.30 and felt like George Orwell 80 years ago. You don’t get that at synthetic places like Reading, QPR or Fulham.
The news from Tyneside meant a happy journey home for the intrepid bunch of travellers, made better by points dropped by Villa. The 12 year old had a bad day at the office – or should it be a bad day in his playpen.