A good day out for Sunderland fans in Wigan

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) 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.