John O’Shea has admitted Sunderland need to return to winning ways sooner rather than later if they are to save Steve Bruce’s job.
Wigan substitute Franco Di Santo sparked a furious response from the home fans at the Stadium of Light with an injury-time strike which secured a priceless 2-1 victory for the club which started the day at the foot of the Barclays Premier League table.
For the first time, the silent majority joined forces with the vocal minority which has been demanding the manager’s head for some time to make for an uncomfortable afternoon for chairman Ellis Short in the stands.
The Texan businessman had earlier insisted in his programme notes that there was no need for panic, but Republic of Ireland defender O’Shea knows just how significant next weekend’s trip to Wolves and Blackburn’s visit to Wearside seven days later could prove.
He said: “You see the attendances we are getting, the fans coming to support us and especially at home, we haven’t had as many wins as we would have liked.
“That’s something we have got to change very quickly because if you want to stay in the Premier League, your home form is supposed to be key.
“We are going to have to definitely change that. We are away next week, but we have got a good enough belief to get three points at Wolves and then get three points at home to Blackburn.
“But that’s easier said than done.”
The statistics make for depressing reading. Sunderland have won only two league games all season and have collected three points on their own pitch just twice in 15 attempts since January 1.
Of the 30 league outings they have contested since their 3-0 triumph over Blackburn on New year’s Day, they have tasted victory on just seven occasions and collected a meagre 28 of the 90 points on offer.
Bruce’s critics in the stands questioned his parentage, the place of his birth and his dietary regime as the latest disaster unfolded.
But more significantly, it was his ability to take the club to the next level which was the major topic for debate in the aftermath of a damaging 90 minutes which has piled the pressure on his players in their next two games.
O’Shea said: “Especially because of this result, that will be the case.
“But it’s a long old season and if we keep our preparation right like we have been doing and creating as many chances as we have been doing in games, surely we have got to take more chances than we have done.”
Sunderland’s inability to convert pressure into goals has proved hugely expensive this season, and it returned to haunt them again yesterday.
Having squandered a series of opportunities against Fulham last week to draw 0-0 at the Stadium of Light, the Black Cats started in determined fashion and were in front within eight minutes.
Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi could not hold Nicklas Bendtner’s swerving shot, and although he recovered well to block Kieran Richardson’s follow-up, Sebastian Larsson was on hand to blast the rebound home.
Bruce’s men tore into the Latics and, but for Al-Habsi, would have had the points wrapped up long before half-time.
If the Oman international had been culpable for the goal, he was faultless thereafter, producing fine saves to deny Richardson and Wes Brown in quick succession, and then Larsson, Phil Bardsley and O’Shea.
But the visitors were handed a lifeline on the stroke of half-time when referee Kevin Friend awarded a penalty for Larsson’s challenge on Victor Moses – “I have seen it five times and it certainly wasn’t a penalty,” said Bruce – and Jordi Gomez duly obliged to drag his side back into the game.
Buoyed by their equaliser, Wigan enjoyed the better of the second half, although the game looked to be meandering towards a draw until Brown suffered a catastrophic meltdown three minutes into injury time.
Having played a steepling clearance back to keeper Keiren Westwood, the former Manchester United defender was mugged by James McArthur as he dwelt on an admittedly unkind return pass, and when the midfielder picked out fellow substitute Di Santo in front of goal, he shot gleefully into an empty net.
A crestfallen Bruce was nevertheless defiant as the boos rang around the stadium.
He said: “If you are going to do the job, there are going to be times when it is tough.
“I have had tough times – probably not as tough as this one at the moment - but I am determined.”