Sunderland add to Martinez woes
SUNDERLAND 4 WIGAN 2
Much of north-east England enjoyed brilliant sunshine and unusually high temperatures, but thick clouds gathered above the Stadium of Light where it remained sweater rather than shirtsleeve weather.
After a run that had seen his Sunderland side take a solitary point from nine games, Steve Bruce might well have interpreted this as a bad omen, but it was Roberto Martinez whom fortune frowned on.
On a day when Sunderland effectively secured Premier League safety, his Wigan team -- formerly managed by Bruce -- slipped back into the relegation zone. With their outstanding individual Charles N'Zogbia disappointing, the visitors looked a shadow of the outfit that won at Blackpool a week ago and have it all to do if they are to avoid playing Championship football next season.
Sunderland have suffered an appalling catalogue of injuries in recent months and the game had barely begun before Phil Bardsley's collision with team-mate Nedum Onuoha resulted in another, particularly serious, one.
Bardsley, probably Bruce's player of the season, appeared to damage his neck and had to be taken off on a stretcher.
On trotted Anton Ferdinand and it was not long before Steed Malbranque also rose from the bench to replace the hobbling Danny Welbeck. If such interruptions merely heightened the tension already suffusing the Wearside air, Wigan looked every bit as nervous as Sunderland. Such collective fear served to paralyse most creative impulses and, with fluency similarly absent, an awful first half was studded with errors and laboured passing.
At least things perked up a little after the interval. First, Ali al-Habsi saved superbly from Asamoah Gyan's header following Jordan Henderson's cross before Wigan took the lead.
Their goal began with the otherwise subdued N'Zogbia picking out Mohamed Diame with a clever pass. A couple of minutes before Diame had been limping heavily, but he recovered in time to turn Michael Turner before sending a shot beyond Simon Mignolet from the edge of the area.
Unwisely, travelling Wigan fans serenaded their former manager with chants of "Brucie, Brucie what's the score?" but, much to their chagrin, the answer was soon 1-1. Martinez's team are notoriously poor at defending set-pieces and they paid for failing to properly clear a free-kick. Accordingly, Malbranque found himself in sufficient space to switch feet before supplying Gyan with a fine cross. This time his header proved too good for al-Habsi.
Henderson has appeared burnt out in recent weeks but Sunderland's England under-21 international midfielder, recently jeered by his own public, was showing glimpses of a return to form. Confirmation of this arrived with a goal. Satisfyingly Henderson initiated a move which would see Sulley Muntari -- on for Gyan who had been taken off with a hamstring injury -- centre for him to lash past al-Habsi courtesy of an unexpected left-foot strike.
Suddenly nothing was going right for Wigan and they conceded the softest of penalties when Antolin Alcaraz was judged to have brought Stephane Sessegnon down in the area. Sessegnon converted the penalty himself before creating Sunderland's fourth for Henderson whose goal went some way to answering Bruce's criticism's about his supposed lack of goal threat.
Substitute Franco di Santo pulled back a late goal for Wigan but Martinez could not even raise a smile.
Sunday Indo Sport