Pete Sixsmith has solved his computer problem (don’t ask) and gives the view from behind the goal. He survived a falling TV aerial, an overturned lorry on the A66 and the closure of the M62 to report on yet another enjoyable day for the Lads. Fortified by Double Chocolate Stout in The Anvil and pie and chips next to Wallgate Station, here is his account from the deepest, darkest North West
If, as Harold Wilson said, “A week is a long time in politics” then the six weeks that have elapsed between our two encounters with The People’s Republic of Wigan, seems like an eternity.
There we were at The Stadium of Light, playing like a team of clowns against The Latics. Players like O’Shea, Colback and Bendtner looked as if they would be better off looking for employment with Billy Smart than playing football.
The catastrophic series of errors that led to a crushing 2-1 defeat also resulted in the dismissal of Steve Bruce and the appointment of Martin O’Neill. That Wes Brown blunder looks as if it could be the best thing that has happened to Sunderland in ages!!
Last night, with a patched up and tired team, we crushed Wigan 4-1. Yes, we carried some luck, yes, we had spells where we were defending as grimly as we had to on Sunday, but we scored four goals away from home to lift us to tenth and to put us a mere 6 points behind Our Friends From Up The Road.
More changes were forced on The O’Neillster ( I agree, it doesn’t sound right; let’s call him MON). Larsson was replaced by Richardson and Brown by Kilgallon but the balance and the setting of the team remained the same.
Wigan came at us in the first half, hit both posts in a ten second spell and played some pretty football, which, for all the patterns weaved, never really had anything at the end of it. It looked goalless at half time until Mike Dean gave a free kick on the edge of the box for a foul on Bendtner – a foul hotly disputed by the Wigan players.
No Larsson to weave his magic, so up stepped Craig Gardner from full back to have a go. He delivered a free kick that swerved and moved so much that it reminded me of the ball that Shane Warne delivered to bamboozle another renowned pie eater in Mike Gatting all those years ago.
The second half saw a lot of huffing and puffing from Wigan and, as they left space, we took advantage of it. James McClean opened his account after al-Habsi had made a wonder save from his first header and although Rodallega pulled one back, courtesy of a huge deflection from Kilgallon’s shin, we put our foot on the gas, added two more and strolled home.
The third goal was the one that the manager would be most pleased about. The much maligned Bendtner used his strength, his experience and his ability to roll Paraguay’s captain, Alvarez, and break clear. He went to the byline and delivered a low cross that was so accurate that the arriving Sessegnon never had to break his stride as he put the ball into the net in front of 4,500 delirious Sunderland fans. Our goal of the season so far.
And if that were not enough, we saw another great attempt from McClean before David Vaughan smashed in a beauty to put the proverbial icing on the metaphorical cake.
Why the change? The players are the same, although some were rarely used by the previous regime. It’s all about confidence and the ability of this manager to get players to do exactly what he wants them to. I get the impression that Bruce said to them “This is what I want you to do. Go out there and do it. Don’t let me down”. MON says “This is what I want you to do and here is how you do it. I know that you are a good enough player to do that. Don’t let yourself down”.
Whatever he says, it works. Look at the difference in players like Cattermole, who was stagnating under Bruce. Once again, he turned in a tremendous shift and was competitive without being confrontational. O’Shea is another example of what happens when you play someone in the right position. He’s a top class central defender, not a right full back.
Then there are the ones who hardly played – Gardner, Vaughan and particularly Kilgallon. All three of them had outstanding games, with Kilgallon catching the eye in his first start since Gordon Brown was Prime Minister.
All of these players were brought to the club by Bruce, which shows that he has a good eye for a player but is not that great at utilising them or motivating them once he has them. O’Neill is and that is the difference between a good manager and a decent one.
So, a great three days, two wonderful wins and we are on page 1 of Teletext Premier League table for the first time in ages. Peterborough up next in the Cup; it would be great to start a cup run after the last few dismal years. With MON in charge, you wouldn’t bet against it.