Stu Forster - Getty Images
The nervy win against Wigan Athletic certainly wasn't short on talking points! We pick out a few for discussion.
What The Gaffer Said
The relief at securing that elusive first league win of the season was almost palpable in Martin O'Neill's post match comments. He told safc.com:
I’m delighted with the result.
After [Steven] Fletcher scored I thought we might have been able to press on and get another goal but as time was getting on, it started getting a bit more edgy and the crowd were worrying about holding onto the win.
But we hung on and got the win and that was so important for us today.
The first half was end-to-end stuff, but in the second after we got the goal I think it became a little bit more unsettled.
We remain unbeaten but we had to fight for it. I think we can now improve on that and we’ll get confidence from this win.
Winning is so important and getting those three points on the board means a lot, especially after the disappointment of conceding a goal so late last week.
Fletcher did brilliantly today.
His all-round play was magnificent, especially the way he brought people into the game. At the other end, Mignolet made two unbelievable saves for us at really important points.
Despite Roberto Martinez's protestations, O'Neill was also adamant that Howard Webb got the decision to send off Latics forward Jordi Gomez correct.
My first thought was that it looked a bit harsh but I’ve seen it back since and I’m not so sure that the referee has much alternative.
Considering his touchline reaction to the tackle at the time, I just wonder if there was a certain degree of diplomacy in that assessment of the red card. It wasn't a reaction of a man who had just seen a yellow card challenge.
Have to echo his comments on Steven Fletcher, however. The goal was simply icing on the cake. That was a real all-round forward performance of real quality.
He's Our Keeper, A Belgian Keeper...
Everywhere you look in the Premier League these days there are top class Belgian footballers. Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembele, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Mirallas, and Romelu Lukaku, and one or two more, too. You struggle to turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper without coming accross someone or other referencing it.
One name you never see in that list, however, is Simon Mignolet and it is about time he started getting a little credit. Not only is he the least heralded Belgian in the Premier League but he is the least heralded goalkeeper too. He simply hasn't put a foot wrong yet this season and, in my opinion, is developing into something a little bit special.
Without two big early saves, with one in particular genuinely breathtaking, this game could have easily gone very badly wrong for Sunderland. Quality goalkeepers make big saves at big times that win games, and that was exactly what Simon Mignolet did here. (MG)
Cattermole A Miss
There will be an inclination for some to note that this was Sunderland's first win of the season, look at the fact that it was the first game Lee Cattermole has missed, and connect the two. That would be a mistake.
For me, Cattermole's absence was obvious and a genuine worry with two considerably tougher games approaching. Too often, especially in the first half, there was far too much space between the midfield and defence for one of Wigan's three forwards to drop into.
Part of that was the defence sitting too deep, granted, but it was also space that Cattermole would naturally fill and take responsibility for. (MG)
Larsson Slowly Settling
Though the captain was a miss, I thought it was Sebastian Larsson's best game for Sunderland since his move into the centre of midfield. His performance was blighted slightly by being very fortunate not to receive his marching orders for an ugly lunge that was identical to that of Jordi Gomez and that would have seen Cattermole crucified for, but he generally did well.
The Swede was always involved, pretty combative, and covered every blade of grass for the cause. There may just be a central midfield player in him yet. (MG)
McClean On The Right Road
Ever since the Irishman's Twitter indiscretions it seems terribly fashionable to criticize James McClean. I suppose he only has himself to blame to a certain degree for that, but his performances still come under a little more scrutiny that I personally think is fair.
The fact is that McClean, whilst not possessing anywhere near the grace of Sessegnon and Johnson, may just be the most effective of the three attacking players who line up behind Steven Fletcher for us these days. Even when he isn't on top of his game he is bullish, assertive, and uniquely positive.
I don't buy all this 'he has been found out' stuff. It is too easy an accusation to throw around after a bad game, but he will have bad games. Everyone does. For me, we seem to be back in Lee Cattermole territory here and it is time that we simply appreciate him for what he is, because even without being in really top form yet this season he has still done something of note and threatened at some point or another in just about every game. (MG)
The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get
There's been results so far this season where we've really ground them out - Arsenal away for example - a great performance in which we held shape, kept our focus on being difficult to beat. Swansea, Liverpool and West Ham might not have been the results we craved, but we worked like Japanese prisoners of war (happy ones) to come within a whisker of winning.
This game against Wigan Athletic didn't go our way at all. If it wasn't for Simon Mignolet we could have been two down at half time, but he was excellent, and we maintained our focus. Now then this was possibly one of our poorest performances of the season so far, but I do happen to believe that a little bit of Karma and luck came in when Jordi Gomez was sent off, changing the game in our favour. As the title indicates, the harder we work, the luckier we get. (SW)