Elliot Embleton and Dennis Cirkin led a second-half comeback for Sunderland to secure a first victory in five games for Tony Mowbray’s side with a 2-1 victory over Wigan.
Charlie Wyke had continued his fine comeback to football with a second goal in as many weeks at his old ground, but a change in formation from Mowbray in the meantime turned the tide of the competition for good.
The Black Cats were a constant threat during the second half and then raced through a late play-off to secure the points.
Wyke’s opener came at the end of a first half in which Sunderland had largely dominated, but without creating too many significant chances.
The hosts continued to struggle in the absence of a senior striker, seeing plenty of the ball but with little end product.
After early efforts from Patrick Roberts and Embleton, both sides struggled to build momentum in a stop-start contest, although that suited the visitors far more than Sunderland.
Sunderland came close when Alex Pritchard found Roberts in the box with a sublime through ball, but the offside flag was raised as he fired home.
Another fine move saw Pritchard then release Jack Clarke in the box, but on his weaker left foot he could only fire away from the far post.
The hosts were gaining confidence, but within minutes they were behind.
Former Sunderland striker Nathan Broadhead spotted his opportunity to get away from Luke O’Nien and suddenly the break began. He found another ex-Black Cats player in winger James McClean on the left and he in turn picked ex-Sunderland striker Wyke, who had shot himself into space at the back post and converted a skillful volley.
Sunderland boss Mowbray responded by switching to a more aggressive half-time formation and was rewarded almost immediately, with Embleton leveling the scores when he converted Cirkin’s low cross from close range.
Sunderland were now dominating the contest and had their deserved second place when Pritchard spotted the opportunity to fire a quick free-kick, deploying a glorious cross to the back post which Cirkin powered home with an excellent header.
It came at the end of a spell in which four times they had put the ball in the penalty area without finding that crucial finishing touch.
Wigan pushed hard to equalize and will feel they should have had one, with Will Keane heading into McClean’s corner before Cirkin was forced into a block near his own goal line.
from Sunderland Tony Mowbray“We talked at half-time about speeding everything up, getting throw-ins fast and taking free-kicks fast. I told them possession stats don’t interest me, I want to see shots. We have scored a few goals and looked a threat I think we looked comfortable in the first half and to concede was a shock for us We have good quality footballers but I want to challenge them to play at a high pace, play behind the opposition the best teams have a line of five or six players on the pitch, not eight players behind the ball.
“Those are the things we have to work on. We bring in young players but we have to win along the way, so those are important three points. We’ve drawn 0-0 in the last two home games, which was frustrating. for us so that was important. We had a lot of good moments in the second half. I want us to be a brave football team and we were there. It’s an amazing and brave header from Dennis to win for us, he’s not favorite to win that header but he’s going for it from five yards.
“Dennis is an emotional and deep individual who is desperate to do well in football. He has the qualities that I like in a footballer. If the game is an intelligent and technical game he can participate and play, if it is an emotional battle, he can bring his shield and his sword and go to war. I really like Dennis Cirkin.
from Wigan Leam Richardson: “The challenge didn’t look great, it could have been a different result if it had been the other way around, but I’m not going to make excuses. In the first half we were very competitive, we always seemed threatening.
“We didn’t deal with their threat in the second half, they have very good players. We didn’t manage those moments, the goals came from our own goal kick and then from a free kick In the second half, we weren’t nearly as good in the second half with the ball, but we looked threatening late on.”