Precious win and relief for O'Neill
English Premier League: Sunderland 3 Reading 0:He claims he is not merely the right man for the job but the only one, and now Martin O’Neill has a chance to prove it.
It is unlikely that Sunderland’s manager would have been sacked even if his struggling side had lost to Reading but the Wearsiders’ third win in 24 Premier League games and their first victory against opponents finishing with 11 men since March undoubtedly offers him valuable breathing space.
Little more than two minutes had passed before they were ahead. That lead was derived from a set-piece, Adam Johnson’s corner being partly cleared by Adam Federici, the Reading goalkeeper should really have held it. The ball eventually dropped to James McClean, who swept a low, skimming, left-footed half volley inside the near post from just inside the area.
Although Federici partly redeemed himself by doing well to repel Sebastian Larsson’s stinging shot, his defence looked extremely capable of conceding almost every time Sunderland attacked.
The bad news for Sunderland was that while Brian McDermott’s side appeared strictly mid-table Championship at the back – where Adrian Mariappa had a bit of a nightmare at centre half – they were very much better going forward. Indeed with Jay Tabb enjoying himself in central midfield, the home side found themselves frequently struggling to control the game.
Yet if Nicky Shorey sporadically alarmed Sunderland courtesy of some high-calibre crosses, it was O’Neill’s left-back who created the second goal. Danny Rose, controversially selected at full-back rather than in central midfield, surged forward before crossing towards Steven Fletcher’s feet.
Lurking with his back to goal the centre-forward – who was only playing thanks to a pain-killing injection in an ankle – beat Federici with a neat semi-swivel and backheel flick. It was Fletcher’s seventh goal since moving to Wearside. He very nearly boosted that tally shortly before half-time but instead headed another Johnson corner tantalisingly wide.
Despite his team’s two-goal lead O’Neill, a bundle of nervous energy throughout, never looked entirely comfortable. However Sessegnon cooled the nerves and raised the tone in stoppage time, bursting clean through before rounding Federici and passing Sunderland’s third goal into an unguarded net. With a crisis averted O’Neill was left to raise his arms and salute every corner of the crowd.