James McClean turned the clock back a year as Sunderland handed manager Martin O’Neill a long overdue Premier League victory.
Twelve months to the day since making his senior debut for the Black Cats as a substitute in O’Neill’s first game in charge, a 2-1 win over Blackburn, the Republic of Ireland international fired them into a third-minute lead which they were never in danger of relinquishing.
Striker Steven Fletcher, whose return from an ankle injury gave his team an all together more threatening appearance, increased the advantage with an audacious 28th-minute backheel, before Stephane Sessegnon rounded keeper Adam Federici at the death to secure just a third league win in 24 attempts and the first against 11 men since March.
O’Neill was adamant in the run up to the rearranged fixture that it was not a must-win affair, and with owner and chairman Ellis Short a supportive presence at the stadium before kick-off, the club was presenting a united front.
However, a comfortable victory which lifted Sunderland out of the relegation zone was welcome nonetheless as some of the darker clouds hanging over the Stadium of Light dispersed.