O’Shea wants home comforts

Wigan substitute Franco Di Santo sparked a furious response from

the home fans on Saturday with an injury-time strike which secured

a priceless 2-1 victory for the club which started the day at the

foot of the 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 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.”