Sunderland 2-1 Blackburn

By Phil McNultyChief football writer at The Stadium of Light
Martin O'Neill
O'Neill tasted victory in his first game as Sunderland manager

Martin O'Neill made a dramatic entrance at The Stadium of Light as Sunderland struck twice late on to snatch victory against fellow strugglers Blackburn Rovers.

Simon Vukcevic's early goal looked destined to condemn O'Neill to defeat in his first official game in charge since succeeding sacked Steve Bruce - until Sunderland's persistence and pressure was rewarded in a late turnaround.

David Vaughan equalised with a 25-yard drive in the 84th minute and, with Blackburn hanging on desperately, Sebastian Larsson's injury-time free-kick sent O'Neill into one of his familiar frenetic touchline celebrations.

Steve Kean bemoans poor result

In sharp contrast, Blackburn manager Steve Kean turned away in disappointment as he saw the opportunity to relieve the pressure on his position with a second successive win snatched away.

Sunderland's victory moves them out of the Premier League's bottom three - and there was still time for Kean to feel the anger of the hardy band of just 316 supporters who travelled from Lancashire to Wearside.

His side have won only once in the Premier League since September and have taken just six points from a possible 30.

O'Neill will be hoping for better fortunes - and made his entrance to a thunderous roar from Sunderland's fans for the start of a new era - but he was soon acquainted with the familiar problems that led to his appointment.

After observing Sunderland's defeat by Wolves from the stand, O'Neill moved to the sidelines to watch a performance high on endeavour but short on real quality and serious threat until the final few minutes.

They struggled to break through Blackburn's blue and white wall of defensive resistance, with captain Chris Samba magnificent.

But O'Neill will hope this crucial third league victory of the season will now provide the required reserves of confidence.

Sunderland started with a surge of adrenalin, but this was soon replaced by anxiety in defence and Blackburn had claims for a penalty ignored by referee Peter Walton when Yakubu tangled with the recalled Titus Bramble.

It was only a brief reprieve for Sunderland as Blackburn took the lead. Samba was allowed too much time to get a shot in at a free-kick and goalkeeper Keiren Westwood could only palm his shot straight on to the head of the incoming Vukcevic.

Sunderland then offered O'Neill more evidence of their flaws when they wasted an instant opportunity to equalise. Jason Lowe slipped in the six-yard box to allow Stephane Sessegnon's cross to fall at the feet of Kieran Richardson, who seemed surprised to get the chance and allowed Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson to block.

Blackburn felt they were the victims of an injustice as the interval approached when Westwood missed Morten Gamst Pedersen's free-kick under challenge from Samba, leaving Scott Dann to turn in - but referee Walton ruled the keeper had been fouled.

'Magnificent' Sunderland goals delight Martin O'Neill

Rovers lost Gael Givet in the first half, replaced by Martin Olsson - but he went off injured at half-time for Adam Henley. Blackburn boss Kean was then forced to use his third substitute before the hour when Grant Hanley came on for Michel Salgado.

Sunderland continued to apply pressure without creating clear-cut openings but Robinson was called into action after 64 minutes to turn away Richardson's deflected shot in acrobatic fashion.

As time ran out, Vaughan delivered a spectacular first goal of the O'Neill reign when he picked up a loose ball from Henley's headed clearance and fired past the motionless Robinson.

And with The Stadium of Light and O'Neill scenting victory, Larsson curled a free-kick in at the near post to spark ecstatic scenes after Mauro Formica was penalised for handball.

Blackburn's Lowe was taken off on a stretcher after a blow to the head in the dying seconds to complete a miserable conclusion for Kean's side.

For O'Neill, though, this was the perfect start and gave Sunderland the instant impact chairman and owner Ellis Short wanted when he made his appointment.

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