Steven Fletcher scored twice in a thrilling 3-2 win over Wigan Athletic to ease Sunderland’s relegation worries on Saturday.
The hosts got off to the perfect start after David Vaughan put the ball into his own net early on, but Sunderland responded through Craig Gardner’s penalty and a Steven Fletcher double put them 3-1 up before half time.
Wigan made a concerted effort to come back in the second half, but despite substitute Angelo Henriquez’s debut goal, Fletcher’s 10th of the season – and sixth in seven against the Latics – was enough to hand Sunderland their fifth win in eight league games.
Roberto Martinez refrained from throwing new signings Joel Robles, Henriquez and Roger Espinoza straight into Wigan’s starting line-up, instead making just two changes from the side that earned a point at Fulham last weekend. Ronnie Stam replaced the injured Ivan Ramis, while Jordi Gomez came in for David Jones.
The visitors, meanwhile, welcomed defender John O’Shea back from a long injury lay-off at the expense of Matthew Kilgallon, while new signing Alfred N’Diaye replaced James McClean to make his full league debut and Steven Fletcher returned to relegate youngster Connor Wickham to the bench.
A tough task loomed for the home side. The Latics had won just once in nine league games and had lost their last four home games against Sunderland, including a 4-1 defeat last season.
But just four minutes in, the hosts took a torch to the formbooks and capitalised on sloppy defending to carve an early lead.
Great work from Gomes and Jean Beausejour down the left ended with Ronnie Stam receiving the ball in the box and turning to shoot. The defender fluffed his finish but a Vaughan touch sent the ball past Simon Mignolet.
Sunderland’s response, however, was swift. N’Diaye and O’Shea come close minutes later, before James McCarthy blocked Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick inside the box with his hand, conceding a 15th-minute penalty.
It was Sunderland’s first spot kick in 34 games but Gardner made it look easy, sending Ali Al-Habsi the wrong way after coolly slotting the ball into the bottom left corner.
And just five minutes later, Fletcher put Sunderland ahead after meeting an N’Diaye cross to first have his header saved and then rifle an acrobatic left-foot volley into the top corner on the rebound.
The goal turned the game on its head. And more worryingly for Wigan, it didn’t stop there.
Five minutes before half-time, a long ball into the box found Adam Johnson, who played a simple pass to Fletcher and the Scotland striker once again used his left foot to inflict hurt, sending a powerful, pinpoint finish into the top corner from the edge of the box.
The home side came out firing after the break, with Shaun Maloney being denied by several fantastic Mignolet saves, while Fletcher deflected the ball onto his own crossbar on 68 minutes.
And Henriquez got the hosts back into the game with 10 minutes to go, heading in a Maloney cross to score on his debut.
But Wigan’s second half pressure ultimately came to nothing and Fletcher and co. left the DW Stadium with three valuable points.