Sunderland 4 Cardiff 0: Three talking points
Sunderland 4 Cardiff 0: Player ratings as the Black Cats take a big step towards survival
Regarded as a player with outstanding potential during his early career with Ipswich, Connor Wickham has failed to live up to the hype. Since joining Sunderland for an initial fee of £8m in 2011, the striker has seemingly felt the burden of the price tag, and struggled to adapt to life in the north east. A successful loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday, where he notched eight goals in 13 outings, illustrated a resurgence in form. After a handful of games for Leeds, he was recalled by Gus Poyet to bolster the attacking options, with talismanic frontman Steven Fletcher injured and Jozy Altidore short of confidence. Since returning from his spell in Yorkshire, Wickham has started six of the seven league games, and the decision has proved to be an inspired one. In his previous two outings, the 21-year-old has notched three times against top-class opposition, in the form of Manchester City and Chelsea. He continued to be a crucial presence in this vital fixture, by playing a part in three of the four goals scored. The frontman notched the first and fourth goals with headed contributions and his tireless running led to the award of a penalty for the second strike. This glut of goals is in stark comparison to his early experiences of the Premier League, when he had scored just once in 37 outings at this level.
Could the miracle happen for the Black Cats?
After his side were handed a 5-1 thrashing by Tottenham on the 7th April, Sunderland boss Gus Poyet was scathing in his assessment: “It would be a miracle to stay up”. It wasn’t difficult to see why the Uruguayan came to that conclusion as that result left the Wearsiders bottom of the table, with just seven fixtures to harness a revival. Following a further loss at home to Everton, when Wes Brown’s own-goal proved to be the deciding contribution, their chances of staying up looked bleak. An unlikely set of results over the Easter period offered hope of a turnaround though, as they picked up four points from a possible six, with a draw and victory respectively against City and Chelsea. A sign of their troubles is illustrated by the fact that they have occupied a place in the bottom three prior to 30 of their matchday fixtures this season. This victory ensured that they climbed clear of the drop zone for the first time since February, and could go a long way to guaranteeing an eighth consecutive season in the top flight. Survival would also signal a historical moment in Premier League folklore, as they could become the second team to avoid relegation after being bottom at Christmas, following West Brom in doing so.
Solskjaer experiment fails to pay off
Following Malky Mackay’s sacking in December 2013, Cardiff’s fans were in uproar as the man who guided them to the promise land of the Premier League was cruelly disregarded. Prior to the departure of the Scot, the Welsh club were sitting outside of the relegation places but the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t had the effect desired by chairman Vincent Tan. After waiting 51 years to return to the top division, supporters were hopeful that they could secure their place for a number of seasons to come, but it hasn’t panned out well. In his 19 games in charge, the Baby Faced assassin has lost 11 times, and despite bringing seven new faces into the squad during the January transfer window, their fortunes have continued to slide. This is in stark contrast to the other sides who have changed their manager – with Tony Pulis masterminding a turnaround for Crystal Palace being a prime example.
Problems are evident at both ends as defensive fragility continues to be exposed by every side they encounter and finding the net is proving to be a difficult task, with just two goals in their last four fixtures. The future of the Norwegian boss looks set to be a topic of discussion for the upper echelons of the Welsh club over the Summer, but a lot will depend on what league they are occupying.