James McClean turned the clock back a year as Sunderland handed manager Martin O'Neill a long overdue Barclays Premier League victory, beating Reading 3-0.
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.
Sources on Wearside had insisted earlier in the day that O'Neill's job was safe regardless of what happened on Tuesday evening, but as the first half unfolded, any fears the Ulsterman might have had evaporated.
It took his side less than three minutes to get their noses in front when Royals keeper Adam Federici could only punch Adam Johnson's inswinging corner to McClean on the edge of the box, and he returned the ball with interest and saw it skid into the back of the net.
Sebastian Larsson might have doubled Sunderland's lead within two minutes, but his right-foot shot was beaten away by Federici. However, the Black Cats were almost caught out when central defender Alex Pearce was allowed to side-foot Nicky Shorey's ninth-minute free-kick just wide of Simon Mignolet's far post.
Reading started to work their way into the game with Jobi McAnuff seeing plenty of the ball down the left, but all too often, they could not find the final ball to trouble the home defence. At the same time, they looked vulnerable to the break with Pearce and Adrian Mariappa finding Fletcher a real handful.
But Reading's cause became all the more forlorn on 28 minutes when full-back Danny Rose surged forward and delivered a low cross to the near post, where Fletcher flicked it outrageously past the helpless Federici.
Johnson, who had earlier been felled by McAnuff with a crude challenge, failed to reappear after the break and was replaced by Phil Bardsley. Fletcher could not climb high enough to make meaningful contact with an early McClean cross but it was Reading who began to threaten as the half wore on.
Mignolet had to be at his best to keep out Shorey's curling 54th-minute set piece, while Federici had to make late saves from Sessegnon, McClean and Craig Gardner. But Sessegnon applied the required finish to Carlos Cuellar's long ball deep into injury time to secure a precious and deserved victory.
- Sports & Recreation
- Adam Federici
- Steven Fletcher