Everything clicks for Sunderland

The Northern Echo: SEBASTIAN’S SCREAMER: Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson races away in delight after scoring a stunning long-range goal to put the Black Cats 1-0 up against West Ham United on Saturday SEBASTIAN’S SCREAMER: Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson races away in delight after scoring a stunning long-range goal to put the Black Cats 1-0 up against West Ham United on Saturday

ON a day when Sunderland fans were treated to some pre-match entertainment, it was in fact their side's performance on the field that sent almost 40,000 home happy.

The club opened a special 'Fan Zone' outside the stadium, featuring a range of activities for fans of all ages.

But after enjoying their pre-match entertainment, the fans were treated to a mouth-watering attacking display, which saw Martin O'Neill's men put three goals past a below-par West Ham United.

Undoubtedly, it was their best team performance of the season to date and the fact they are capable of brushing aside a team who were three places and four points above them before kick-off must have Black Cats fans wondering why they haven't seen more displays of that ilk.

Every time they broke forward they looked like scoring, while a makeshift back four were solid, although rarely tested, and kept a vital clean sheet.

Ultimately, though, this win was all about their attackers and goals from Seb Larsson, Adam Johnson and James McClean showed that Sunderland aren't reliant on Steven Fletcher.

Everything just seemed to click into place - something O'Neill has been waiting for since the start of the season - but the boss insisted it isn't time to get carried away yet.

"I don't think we have dominated any game for long periods as we did against West Ham," he said.

"Maybe that is because we haven't been able to do that. It was great."

O'Neill revealed Senegalese defender Kader Mangane was on his way to Wearside to discuss a loan move from Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal.

"We played very well but I wouldn't start getting carried away with everything. We have a bit of work to do. Titus settled down and performed very well. We still have a lot of work to do to be a proper team. That is my view.

"After the game against Bolton I gave those who weren't injured a couple of days off because they put their heart and soul into the matches. We hadn't always directed it well but we had put a lot into the games.

"There was a lot of vitality today, a lot of energy, which was great, maybe that gave them a bit of a lift.

"Maybe it was the second half comeback last week against Bolton. Perhaps it did some of the team some good."

The rest certainly did Stephane Sessegnon some good and he turned in his best display of the season.

Although he has struggled to hit form, the Benin international was full of life and everything good that Sunderland did going forward almost always included the 28-year-old.

"Sessegnon was excellent for us without scoring a goal and the centre forward without scoring a goal led the line brilliantly," O'Neill said.

"What is the difference? Deep down I'm not exactly sure. There was more confidence about the team today and that seemed to permeate to the crowd as well.

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"I thought Sessegnon was excellent. He gets himself in fantastic positions and if he could finish, he could be anything, really.

Although the goalscorers will get the headlines, Sessegnon and David Vaughan were outstanding in particular.

Vaughan has found his first-team opportunities limited this season, but he has given the Black Cats something different in midfield in their last two games and O'Neill praised the midfielder for his performance.

"He has been in and around the squad for a little while. He started the game against Bolton and I thought he was our best player, particularly when we were having a tough first half.

"He was still trying to get it down and manoeuvre it. He carried on from the Bolton game. He had a boost of confidence, which is great.

"His last starting game may have been against Middlesbrough when he didn't do himself justice, but I thought he was excellent. I'm not sure anyone played better than him."

It didn't take the Black Cats long to get going with their first goal coming after 13 minutes.

Alou Diarra could only clear Johnson's cross into the path of Larsson and after taking a touch the Sweden international sent a 22-yard thunderbolt past Jaaskelainen into the top corner.

The Black Cats made it two just after the break through a brilliant counter-attacking move and some calamitous West Ham defending.

Sessegnon picked out McClean in acres of space on the left and after his shot was parried, Fletcher out-muscled Dan Potts, leaving Johnson to smuggle the ball in at the back post.

McClean made it three in the 74th minute after Sessegnon had turned the defence inside out, but in truth it could have been a lot more.

Even new boy Alfred N'Diaye tried his luck and the £3.5m signing from Bursaspor could have scored with his first touch when his low sweeping shot ran inches wide of the post in the dying minutes.

"Goals are begin shared around. That is great," said O'Neill.

"I must admit in the early part of the season if Steven didn't get a goal you were wondering where a goal was going to come from, but now other people have chipped in. It is a good confidence booster for Seb and not bad for McClean."

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