Black Cats can't keep relying on Fletcher goals, warns Larsson
Wigan 2 Sunderland 3
Fears that Sunderland would be drawn into a relegation fight have eased with a run of five wins in eight Premier League matches, but Sebastian Larsson says Martin O'Neill's team cannot slip back into old habits and expect £12m striker Steven Fletcher to keep them safe.
Signed from Wolves last summer, Fletcher hit five goals in his first four Premier League appearances for his new club, but no other Sunderland player scored until Adam Johnson struck at Everton in November.
When Fletcher's goals dried up, Sunderland suffered a run of only one win in 10 matches, slipping into the bottom three in December.
Fletcher found his touch again against Reading in their next match and has scored in three of those five wins, including a double in this victory that took his tally to 10 for the season.
"They were two great finishes, two instinctive finishes," Larsson said. "It can only help us if he's scoring, but we relied way too much on him earlier in the season. We've scored a few more goals as a team recently and that's what we have to do, so that teams are not worrying about just him."
Larsson, Johnson and Stephane Sessegnon have a modest eight Premier League goals between them this season. Little wonder O'Neill believes the money he spent on Fletcher – only just short of the club record – was "worth every penny".
"We've relied on him in the first couple of months when he was the only player scoring a goal for us," O'Neill said. "He's really top-class, a top-class centre-forward, not just in the goals he's got but the way he brings others into play. Signing him seemed a long, drawn-out affair but I'm delighted I stuck with it."
Wigan, who had gone ahead through a David Vaughan own goal, responded well in the second half, building on a superb performance by Shaun Maloney, who drew the best save of the match from Simon Mignolet and provided the cross from which Angelo Henriquez, the 18-year-old Chilean striker on loan from Manchester United, headed his first goal for the club.
But Sunderland had an outstanding newcomer of their own in 22-year-old former France U-21 midfielder Alfred N'Diaye and, when Fletcher's goals, added to Craig Gardner's penalty, put them 3-1 up the odds were against Wigan.
Latics boss Roberto Martinez believes his side's defensive shortcomings, with Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis both lost to long-term injury, need to be addressed in the January window if Wigan – now in the bottom three – are to avoid the need for more late-season escapology. (© Independent News Service)