Martin O’Neill got an idea of the problems he has to deal with at Sunderland when he watched his new team lose 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the English Premier League on Sunday.
With Kieran Richardson having put Sunderland ahead shortly after halftime, the former Celtic and Aston Villa coach watched from the stands as his club missed a chance for 2-0 when goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey saved a penalty from Sebastian Larsson.
Steven Fletcher equalized immediately from the resulting counterattack and scored again with nine minutes left to lift his team above Sunderland in the standings.
O’Neill was set to officially succeed Steve Bruce as manager yesterday, with the side he supported as a boy just one point and one place above the bottom three.
Richardson gave Sunderland a 52nd-minute lead at the end of a stunning length-of-the-field counterattack. Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon combined to release Richardson in the area and he smashed an angled shot high into the net.
Larsson won a penalty when he tumbled to the ground theatrically under a challenge from Jody Craddock, although replays showed that any slight contact appeared to occur just outside the area.
Hennessey saved the kick low to his left and rolled the ball out for the 73rd-minute counterattack that ended with Fletcher heading in a cross by Matt Jarvis.
Eight minutes later, Fletcher scored the winner with a left-foot shot from about 12m.
“It was a superb goal they scored, but the crowd stuck with us and it was a great team effort,” Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said. “Wayne was brilliant. He’s one of the best in the league for me. He’s very young, but he’s proved again that he’s an outstanding goalkeeper.”
Wolves moved up two places to 15th, two points ahead of Sunderland. Only Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic in the relegation zone are below the Black Cats.
With all the high-flying clubs having played their matches on Saturday, Stoke City won 1-0 at Everton in Sunday’s other game.
Defender Robert Huth’s first goal of the campaign — the German defender turned Dean Whitehead’s 15th-minute shot into the net — meant that the Potters recorded a victory after a Europa League match for only the second time this season.
Apostolos Vellios made just his second start up front for Everton in place of Louis Saha and his club did not pose enough of a threat in the opposition penalty area, despite dominating the second half.
Stoke rose five places to eighth, two points ahead of Everton.
“It has been a great week for the club,” Stoke manager Tony Pulis said.
“To get six points and to qualify for the latter stages of the Europa League is first class. We have had a dip of form, which most clubs do, and we have shown a lot of character and spirit the last week,” he said.