A spirited second half fight back was not enough to rescue the points as Wigan went down 2-3 at home to Sunderland. The Latics had taken an early lead through a David Vaughan own goal but two goals by Steven Fletcher and a harshly awarded penalty, converted by Craig Gardner, had given the Black Cats a 3-1 half time lead before Wigan rallied in the second half and pulled a goal back by Angelo Henriquez.
Wigan had started the game brightly and were moving the ball around to good effect, but the opening goal was a somewhat fortuitous affair when it came on 4 minutes. After good work by Jordi Gomez, Jean Beausejour played in Ronnie Stam and the Dutchman’s side footed shot took a deflection off David Vaughan and flew into the Sunderland net.
It was not long before Sunderland drew level on 17 minutes but it was in controversial circumstances. The Black Cats were awarded a free kick near the Wigan penalty area following a foul by Emmerson Boyce. Sebastian Larsson’s free kick hit James McCarthy on the arm as he protected his face in the defensive wall and referee Anthony Taylor harshly awarded a penalty. Craig Gardner converted the penalty, sending Al Habsi the wrong way.
But things got much worse for Wigan three minutes later when a fine cross by Alfred N’Diaye found Fletcher and although his first header was initially saved by Al Habsi, the Scotsman followed up to score.
Sunderland were now in the ascendancy and Wigan struggled to get back on terms. The visitors surged forward and they seemed to be the more competitive in the tackle with new signing Alfred N’Diaye having an impressive debut in midfield.
The away team’s dominance was rewarded on 42 minutes after some slack Wigan defending. From a long ball into the Wigan area Fletcher glanced the ball to Johnson, with the defenders standing off, he was able to return the ball to the prolific £12m striker who volleyed past Al Habsi.
The 3-1 half time deficit was a huge set back for the home team but it was not an insurmountable score if they could get their game back on track.
Roberto Martinez reinforced the midfield with Roger Espinoza replacing the disappointing Stam at half time and Wigan immediately started the second half as the more positive outfit.
Shaun Maloney produced an excellent shot on the turn and looked to have pulled a goal back but the excellent Simon Mignolet somehow managed to make a one handed save.
Maloney has just signed a new 2 1/2 year contract and was having an outstanding game, being central to Wigan’s best attacking moves. The diminutive Scot produced a superb left foot drive which looked destined for the top corner but swerved inches wide of the angle of post and cross-bar.
Wigan were dominating possession and creating good opportunities but Stephane Sessegnon had a great chance to finish off the game when a quick break gave a clear run in on goal but the Beninese international dallied too long and the opportunity was wasted.
Wigan’s onslaught continued and they twice hit the woodwork, the first when Fletcher diverted a goal bound free kick by Jordi Gomez onto his own cross-bar and then when Maloney curled a twenty-five yard free kick against Mignolet’s left hand post.
The home team finally breached the Sunderland goal on 79 minutes when Substitute Henriquez headed a goal back after more fine work by Maloney. Soon afterwards Maynor Figueroa crashed a pile driver inches wide of the post.
Wigan continued to lay siege to the Black Cats goal, Martinez throwing on attackers at the expense of defenders, with only Figueroa and Caldwell operating as defenders in the latter part of the second half. But it was all to no avail as Sunderland hung on for the three points.
The result was enough to push Sunderland up to 11th in the table but Wigan have now slumped to 19th and are in the middle of another relegation dog fight.
The doom and gloom merchants will no doubt be out in force on social media and other forums but Wigan showed plenty of skill, character and spirit in the second half to give the fans optimism that we can once again escape the drop.