Wigan Athletic 2 Sunderland 1: Woeful set-piece defending severely dents automatic promotion hopes
More woeful set-piece defending left Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes hanging by a thread.
The Black Cats remain five points adrift of Peterborough United after surrendering a first-half lead at the DW Stadium.
Wigan Athletic scored twice from just three corners in the game, as Sunderland failed to learn the lessons of their defeat to Charlton Athletic on Saturday.
Lee Johnson’s side failed to carve out any significant openings in an insipid final 20, the hosts looking the most likely to extend their lead further.
Johnson had spoken in the aftermath of defeat to Charlton of decisions to make and unsurprisingly, his XI had a refreshed look to it.
One of those changes was enforced, Conor McLaughlin withdrawn in the minutes leading up to kick off and forcing the earlier than planned return of Bailey Wright. The most significant changes were further forward, an attacking front four featuring Diamond and Jones out wide and Aiden McGeady in the central role.
Though it was the hosts who had the first half chances of the contest, Sunderland started brightly and Diamond in particular showed his threat wth a couple of superb driving runs down the left.
The Black Cats were drawing fouls with regularity as their runners broke forward, and it was through set plays that their early openings came.
McGeady drew a good low stop from the Wigan goalkeeper as he met a short free kick from Jones, before Wright headed the following corner just wide of the far post.
Sunderland were dominating the play through the first half an hour without creating too many chances, and when they broke the deadlock it was with a goal of real quality. McGeady did well to just delay his cross when gathering possession on the right, before unfurling a wonderful ball to the back post. Wyke was there to meet with a first-time pass and Sunderland had the lead they needed.
It was a deserved one, too, but they gave their opponents a lifeline before the break with another soft goal.
They had been given two warnings beforehand, Ojo failing to capitalise on a free header in the box before Lang drew a fine low save from Burge. At the following corner the visitors switch off, allowing Keane to slam home a close-range finish after a knock down from the far post.
There was little in the opening exchanges of the second half but more shambolic set piece defending left Sunderland with a mountain to climb in the last half hour.
Dodoo was again left free at the back post as Wigan recycled the loose ball, the forward’s low cross turned over the line by Lang at the back post.
Johnson responded with a quadruple substitution, but Sunderland looked frantic and were unlucky not to fall further behind when Lang surged clear of O’Nien, Keane blasting wide as he picked up the pass.
Sunderland threw bodies forward but were unable to build any real pressure. Too often the play was direct and frantic with little to no end product, Wigan comfortable in defending their lead without any real threat.