Positives: winning, being unbeaten, Mignolet’s world class shot-stopping, Fletcher’s Fifth…
Negatives: matched and menaced by Wigan for half the match, unable to build on a lead even against 10 men. Maybe we should acquire the wonderful gift identified by a certain Scottish bard: ‘to see oursel’s as others see us!’ Over to our resident Burns specialist in – if we are to believe him – pious, farewell mode Pete Sixsmith…
Surrounded as I am by Scotsmen in my seat at the SoL and seeing as a Scotsman is the only one who ever looks like scoring for us, it may well be appropriate to paraphrase the words of the national poet, Robbie Burns, in summing up this very ordinary game.
While it was a good feeling to get that first win of the season done and dusted, it was clear to 37,000 people in the ground that if we continue to misfire like this, the better teams (and there could well be a good dozen of them), will not be as helpful as Wigan were in allowing us to win.
Their best laid plans all went a’gley when Jordi Gomez made a careless lunge at Danny Rose and Howard Webb, the “best referee in Europe” (there must be some shockers), produced a red card.
In the context of the modern game it was a red card. But there seemed no malicious intent and Gomez could argue that the ball was there to be won as Rose had lost control of it. But South Yorkshire’s finest had no hesitation in packing him off to the dressing rooms. If only he had done something similar in Johannesburg in 2010 …
Wigan had started the second half brightly but while they were reorganising Sess sent McClean away, he cut in and (let’s be charitable here) put in a cross that the excellent Fletcher thumped in at the far post. He really is rather good at this; that’s three goals all taken with his feet at the far post. In addition to that, he could, and maybe should, have opened his heading account in the first half.
But we never really got going.
It was a stumbling, stuttering performance which had the odd flash of inspiration, but for much of the game there was a feeling that a better side than Wigan would punish us.
They nearly did early on and it took two fine saves by Mignolet to keep them out. The first one came after Colback slipped on a part of the pitch that had had the full force of the sprinklers on it for 15 minutes before the game. Add that to an early ball to McClean that seemed to stop in surface water and one wonders why on earth, after two days of incessant rain earlier in the week, we feel the need to saturate the playing surface.
The second save was as good and as important as the corker at West Ham last week.
We had been pulled apart by a slick move culminating in Beausojur’s excellent cross landing at the feet of Kone, four yards out. Mignolet had got across to him and spread his body, blocking the Ivorian’s shot and preventing us from going behind for the first time this season.
Some of the readership may disagree with this, but Cattermole was missed. His energy and ability to rat around in midfield would have been ideal in this game.
Wigan do not bother tackling in midfield. They do not have the midfield enforcer that many managers crave; Martinez tells his midfield to flood forward to support whoever is up front and then get back to support what looks like a slow back four.
Cattermole would have kept them penned in and that would have put pressure on their central defenders. Colback and Larsson (who was fortunate not to join Gomez on Howard’s red card list) cannot do this and it gave Wigan the room they needed to play their neat, but ultimately, punchless football.
Colback, Larsson, Sessegnon, Johnson and McClean spent much of the game turning back on themselves and passing the ball square or behind. There were very few penetrative balls played through to Fletcher who too often was left isolated up front and who spends too much time looking for scraps.
He was being marked by a fellow Scot, Gary Caldwell, a former Mag, brother of Steven, once of this parish – and tantrum thrower par excellence. He is brilliant at slapping the ground with his hand and I thought he was going to combust when a foul was given against him for a rugby tackle that would have graced the Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos game the previous night.
It was good to see Adam Johnson in a Sunderland shirt and although he did not have a great game, there was enough from him to show that he will be an asset to the club and a tormentor of opponents – beginning, with any luck, at Eastlands next week and continuing in the next home game against, ‘er, I forget who.
A win it was though, and, in addition to Mignolet and Fletcher, Bramble and Rose also had impressive games. Indeed, nobody played badly, but we never got going against a side who will be struggling all season.
The last three league games have been against teams that we should beat. Now we have a visit to the champions, where we will be expected to repeat the storming performance we turned in last year.
That is followed by the Mags at home and what could well be the defining game of O’Neill’s first year in charge. We should have beaten them at the Sports Direct and they were a better side last season than they look this.
Then, off to our annual love in with the inhabitants of the Potteries and a visit from our Teesside neighbours and you can see that October is a tasty/worrying month depending on whether you celebrate being unbeaten or are concerned at our inability to win.
On a personal note, this may well be my last column as I confidently expect to be named the next Archbishop of Canterbury early next week.
Go in peace my children.