Sunderland overcame an early deficit to storm past Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium, coming away with a 3-2 victory to keep the Latics firmly in the relegation fight. It was a thoroughly entertaining match, packed with action as the two teams threw themselves at one another -- it's nice to see the Black Cats get back into the football-playing mood.
Things started out badly for the visitors. A complete defensive breakdown handed the Latics the left, and the ball eventually made its way across the clean across the box to find Jordi Gomez. His cross appeared to be aimed at a crowd of red and white shirts, but somehow it trundled past all of Sunderland's defenders before being helped into the back of the net by David Vaughan.
And any hope of an immediate reply were dashed by a horrific miss at the other end. A Sebastian Larsson free kick was flicked on by Stephan Sessegnon. The result? A free header from point-blank range for Alfred N'Diaye. It should have been the equaliser, but the Senegalese, making his first start for the Black Cats, contrived to head it clear over Ali Al-Habsi's bar.
Sunderland didn't have to wait too long to draw level, however. James McCarthy rather stupidly raised his arm while jumping to block another Larsson delivery, and Anthony Taylor didn't hesitate in pointing to the spot. Craig Gardner stepped up to take the penalty, and his superb shot went in off the post -- Al-Habsi wouldn't have had a chance even had he dived the right way.
And from then on, Fletcher stole the spotlight. A 20th-minute cross found the prolific centre forward, and although his initial header was saved the summer signing showed superb reflexes in smashing home the rebound with a left-footed volley. Shortly before halftime, Fletcher's left boot struck again, gratefully receiving a cut-back in the box from Adam Johnson before hammering home.
Simon Mignolet kept the score at 3-1 just after the restart after excellent work from Shaun Maloney saw the Ireland international thread his way through the penalty area and send a vicious shot towards the bottom corner. The goalkeeper, however, was more than equal to the effort, flinging himself to his left to bat away the ball and keep the Latics from getting back into the match.
A couple of frankly silly handball appeals were turned down to further enrage the hosts before Fletcher nearly handed them a lifeline when he deflected a Gomez free kick onto his own crossbar. Sessegnon then contrived to a waste a one on one to kill the match off, and he was relieved once more by Mignolet after the Belgian tipped a Maloney free kick onto the post and away.
Wigan had spent most of the second half in Sunderland territory, but they simply weren't able to make the breakthrough they needed. Until Angelo Henriquez came on, that is -- the little loanee popped up to turn in a Maloney cross and match the match far more interesting.
If Mignolet's goal had been intermittently threatened before, it was now under outright siege. Five minutes of injury time, however, were not enough for the hosts to draw level.