Tuesday 17 October 2017

O'Neill keeps feet on ground after Fletcher strikes again

Sunderland 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Luke Edwards

Before their victory, Sunderland were seen as little more than a flaky, rabble searching for their first three-point haul since March.

Afterwards, they were being discussed in the same breath as Chelsea and Manchester City.

Nothing does more to change attitudes in football than a win, but even in the helter-skelter world of the Premier League, this was a remarkable twist.

Martin O'Neill has been in the game a long time, but he had never gone 12 league games without a win.

It was a horrible statistic, the sort that is often used to justify the sacking of a manager, but now suddenly the focus falls on the fact Sunderland are one of three unbeaten teams in the Premier League. The others are Chelsea and City.

With two wins in the Capital One Cup to stretch their unbeaten start to seven games, Sunderland suddenly have the look of predators, not prey. They travel to City next weekend and could prove dangerous opponents.

"It really was important to win, just to turn things around," said O'Neill.

"I don't mind people quoting the stats -- it'll be one win in 13 now. But this is not a continuation of last season, not that you would have believed it.

"Only three teams are unbeaten this season? I hadn't looked at it like that.

"Well, I did really, because I was told it was City and Chelsea. There you go, we're in big company. But it's early yet, very early."

Sunderland were, perhaps, a little fortunate to win. Their goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, made two brilliant saves in the first 15 minutes, the second an unbelievable reaction stop to palm out Aroune Kone's shot.

O'Neill's side took control only after Jordi Gomez's red card for a lunge at Danny Rose in the second half. They scored with their next attack, Steven Fletcher's emphatic finish from a James McClean cross bringing his fifth goal of the season. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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