Cats rout brings Bruce relief
Steve Bruce was a relieved man after Sunderland beat Wigan 4-2 to finally end their winless run at the 10th attempt and climb away from danger.
Four goals inside 22 second-half minutes saw the Black Cats come from behind to see off Latics at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and ease them back into the top half of the Premier League table.
Bruce did not conduct the post-match press conference, but number two Eric Black admitted the manager was a happy man when the final whistle sounded.
Asked how Bruce was, Black said: "He’s absolutely fine. His heart-rate is down to about 184.
"It hurts him. He’s been a winner all his career and the last eight weeks have been exceptionally difficult.
"But I have known him a long time and he’s a resolute character. He comes in every day and he drives people forward, and he will be a better manager, I am sure, for the eight weeks we have just come through."
Things were looking bleak for Sunderland when, having lost both Phil Bardsley and Danny Welbeck to injury before the break, they fell behind to Mohamed Diame’s 52nd-minute thunderbolt.
However, it took them just three minutes to get themselves back on terms when Asamoah Gyan levelled with his 11th goal of the season, a close-range header.
The Ghana international, however, departed on a stretcher nine minutes later and was back in the dressing room by the time Henderson fired the Black Cats ahead with a sweet 66th-minute half-volley.
Wigan were effectively beaten with 17 minutes remaining when, after being felled by defender Antolin Alcaraz inside the box, Benin international Stephane Sessegnon converted from the spot before setting up Henderson for his second four minutes later.
Substitute Franco di Santo reduced the deficit in the final minute of normal time, but he could not prevent the Latics from slipping back into the bottom three as Sunderland climbed into 10th, seven points clear of Wigan in 18th.
Bruce told the club’s official website: "All credit to the players. They produced a performance when they needed to and it restores a bit of the faith."
The game was a triumph in particular for England international Henderson, who has come in for criticism in recent weeks and was left out of the 3-2 defeat by West Brom earlier this month.
Black said: "It’s criticism I find hard to understand because I am fortunate enough to watch him every day in training and see him regularly playing.
"I know he has dropped off in terms of his level of performance, but he is a credit to himself, he really is, in terms of his endeavour and his application in training day in, day out, and on the pitch.
"People sometimes forget, it hurts us all badly, but it hurts him even more being a Sunderland lad, so I am delighted for him."
However, victory came at a cost with Welbeck and Gyan having hamstring injuries assessed with the club currently having no fit senior strikers, although Bardsley was released from hospital having suffered no more than concussion.
But if there was joy on Wearside, Wigan boss Roberto Martinez, who branded the penalty decision "ridiculous", returned across the Pennines with his side back in the relegation zone, although in bullish mood.
He said: "It is quite clear now – we have got 12 points to fight for and we have got two home fixtures.
"We are really excited. We are looking forward to the next 12 points.
"I have said it before, we are catching up this season. We clicked as a team probably 10 weeks ago and now is the moment we are well aware that we need to get points, and we will make sure we get them."