Gardner adds to O'Neill factor
Craig Gardner and Stephane Sessegnon gave Martin O'Neill another win as Sunderland boss in a 2-0 victory over Swansea.
Last Updated: 21/01/12 6:20pm
If Craig Gardner is to leave Sunderland in this January transfer window, he would do so in style after a superb second goal sealed a 2-0 win over Swansea at the Stadium of Light.
The substitute midfielder is said to be homesick and has been linked with a loan return to former club Birmingham, while West Brom and Wolves are also interested.
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill, who saw his influence continue to bring about a renaissance since taking charge, is determined to keep Gardner and his late volley demonstrated the reasons.
Stephane Sessegnon had set the Black Cats on their way with an equally excellent opener in the first half and the three points meant Sunderland overtook their much-praised visitors in the Premier League table.
Swansea, as is the norm, had dominated possession, but Brendan Rodgers' team, who included debutant Josh McEachran as a substitute, never possessed the cutting edge as they slipped to a seventh away defeat of the season.
Last season's Championship winners could feel slightly aggrieved they did not take at least a point and were especially unimpressed that a wild, two-footed, launched challenge from Sebastian Larsson went unpunished by referee Chris Foy given the current climate.
Sunderland owner and chairman Ellis Short has written of the "tremendous impact" O'Neill has had since his arrival on Wearside in December, and the curve remains very much upward with his side having lost just two of the nine games they have played under the Ulsterman.
The Black Cats ran out determined to avenge last weekend's 1-0 reverse at Chelsea, and they started in promising fashion.
Despite the difficult conditions on a cold, blustery Wearside afternoon, they did not allow Swansea, who were full of confidence after last weekend's win over Arsenal, to settle into their passing game.
They might have been ahead as early as the fifth minute when Larsson met Kieran Richardson's left-wing cross with a powerfully-struck volley at the far post, but saw his effort come back off the upright.
O'Neill was dealt a blow when he was forced to replace striker Nicklas Bendtner with teenager Connor Wickham after the Dane had been accidentally caught in the face by Angel Rangel's boot.
But Sunderland might have fallen behind within seconds of the newcomer's arrival when Gylfi Sigurdsson, not for the first time, slipped the ball in behind full-back Richardson for Nathan Dyer to deliver a low cross.
Danny Graham failed to make contact in front of goal, but the ball ran to Scott Sinclair behind the far post and he skied his effort well over.
The visitors were made to pay within seconds when Sessegnon cut inside from the left and after exchanging passes with James McClean, curled a deft right-foot shot across goalkeeper Michel Vorm and high into the top corner.
David Vaughan blazed over from 22 yards five minutes later as the home side threatened to kill the game off, but as the initial storm abated, the visitors belatedly found their feet.
Icelandic international Sigurdsson and Joe Allen started to get to grips with the midfield battle and as Sunderland repeatedly surrendered possession far too cheaply, it was the Welsh side who started to dominate.
Graham was unable to direct Sigurdsson's 26th minute cross at goal, but Simon Mignolet was grateful to see the midfielder's dipping effort from distance drop just wide five minutes later.
Sigurdsson saw a 39th minute shot blocked by Lee Cattermole and scuffed a second straight at Mignolet seconds later with Sunderland pinned back deep inside their own half.
O'Neill was clearly unhappy with his side's performance as the half drew to a close, and the whistle arrived as something of a relief.
His side returned in far more positive mood to put the visitors under pressure, and they almost broke through again with 51 minutes gone.
Sessegnon's enterprising run allowed him to feed Larsson on the right and when the Swede sent in an inviting cross, the former only just failed to connect with an overhead kick.
The ball broke to Wickham, whose effort was blocked, as was Vaughan's follow-up, and Swansea eventually managed to scramble clear.
But once again, the visitors responded and after Sigurdsson had wasted a 55th minute free-kick, he forced a good save from Mignolet with a second three minutes later.
Loan signing McEachran arrived as a 66th minute replacement for Sigurdsson with his side labouring in the search for an equaliser.
They came close to falling further behind 15 minutes from time when Sessegnon dived to meet McClean's cross with a firm header, but the ball flew just wide.
Wayne Routledge and Gardner arrived as 78th minute replacements for Leon Britton and Vaughan as Rodgers looked for greater creativity and O'Neill attempted to tighten things up.Wickham came close to cementing the victory when he fired just wide from the loose ball after getting the better of an aerial challenge with Ashley Williams, but Gardner wrapped up the points with a fine volley five minutes from time.
|Sunderland||Team Statistics||Swansea City|
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|3||Shots on Target||3|
|6||Shots off Target||7|
|26.8||1st Half Poss.||73.2|
|35.4||2nd Half Poss.||64.6|