Cats in clover as Bruce savours success at last

NINE games without a win, injuries piling up and rumblings of discontent among supporters, Steve Bruce must have felt like retracing his steps to see just where he walked under that ladder, or, the height of irony, had his path crossed by a black cat.

If it wasn’t for bad luck of late, the Sunderland manager wouldn’t have had any luck to speak of, but in the end, everything was put right by a four-leaf clover.

How else to explain a stunning change in fortune, which saw a club now without a recognised forward score three times in the space of 11 second-half minutes, as many as they had managed in their previous seven matches? “A lady gave me a four-leaf clover,” Bruce revealed, after housing the lucky keepsake in his inside suit pocket as his side ended a 91-day wait for a victory, one that barring a freak set of results guarantees a fifth successive season of top flight football on Wearside.

This particular lucky leaf has history. Bruce added: “Apparently, she gave it to Peter Reid 10 years ago when he led the club to back-to-back seventh-place Premier League finishes, bless her. She was here with her husband, and to be honest I don’t know who they are, but I certainly thank them for this win.”

It was Sunderland’s fortune to come up against a Wigan side incapable of taking advantage of the hosts’ best efforts to shoot themselves in the foot once more, although Roberto Martinez’s men did look like earning a fourth win in eight visits to the Stadium of Light when Mohamed Diame walloped a sublime deadlock-breaking goal past Simon Mignolet from 20-yards at the outset of a second-half that was as compelling as the first was dire.

Asamoah Gyan would soon become the third Sunderland player taken off with an injury, but not before the Ghanaian had headed the equaliser from a Steed Malbranque cross. Drawing level on 11 at the head of the club’s goal charts with the long-since departed Darren Bent is likely to be the £13m record signing’s last contribution this season, after mirroring the first-half injury suffered by the similarly hamstrung Danny Welbeck.

Bruce should have known the Manchester United loan forward was an accident waiting to happen, having been rushed back in an act of desperation from the manager, who may have been entitled to ask exactly what the four-leaf clover was up to early on, when Phil Bardsley was hospitalised with concussion after an accidental clash with team-mate Nedum Onuoha. Thankfully, the defender returned to join in the celebrations to mark a first home win since New Year’s Day to leave the Wearsiders seven points above the bottom three.

Bardsley could no doubt have been forgiven for fearing his bang on the head was rather more severe than thought when he learned previously shot-shy Sunderland had run amok after Gyan’s departure, Jordan Henderson grabbing two goals with confident close-range finishes with either foot, either side of Stephane Sessegnon’s first for the club from the penalty spot after the midfielder went down somewhat enthusiastically under an innocuous challenge from Antolin Alcaraz.

“It was a very bad call, ridiculous,” said Martinez. “Maybe the referee saw something that wasn’t there.”

The only thing that wasn’t there was the Wigan defence, untroubled before the break, easily undone after it. “Everyone has been a bit down,” Henderson admitted of Sunderland’s season-debilitating slump. He added: “We’ve stayed strong and we have picked ourselves up.”

The value of substitute Franco Di Santo’s belated opening of his Wigan account from close range in the final minute may only become clear in terms of goal difference in the fight to stay up that Martinez predicts will go to the season’s May 22 denouement. Having seen his side drop back into the bottom three after a rare week-long respite, courtesy of Blackpool’s point against Newcastle, the Spaniard said: “We have four games left and we need seven points, which we’re capable of achieving.

“We can only guess, but I would be surprised if any team would stay up with less than 40 points, but I’d also be very surprised if anyone doesn’t stay up with 41.”

That’s exactly the tally now boasted by Sunderland, back into the top 10 thanks to the welcome return of lady luck just when Bruce feared he’s been stood up for good. You might say he’s in clover.

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