Sunderland, Dec 12: Sweden winger Sebastian Larsson ensured Martin O'Neill's reign as Sunderland manager got off to a winning start, curling in a stoppage-time free kick in the team's 2-1 victory over Blackburn in the Premier League on Sunday.
Simon Vukcevic had threatened to spoil O'Neill's first match in charge by putting Blackburn ahead in the 17th minute, but David Vaughan equalized in the 84th with a fierce long-range shot and Larsson completed Sunderland's late comeback in the second minute of injury time.
The victory lifted the hosts out of the bottom three and into 16th place in the 20-team league, but kept Blackburn second from bottom—a point above Bolton.
“We needed a win and in that kind of a manner,” said Larsson, who scored his fifth goal of the season. “(O'Neill) has come in with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and told us he believes in us.
“We've had a tough time but this will do us the world of good and hopefully we can push on.”
O'Neill—back in Premier League management after 16 months away—was afforded a rapturous welcome before the match by the home fans, who will be hoping the 59-year-old Northern Irishman can return the good times to the club after seasons of mediocrity.
In coaching stints at Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa, he has earned a reputation for getting the best out of players and quickly galvanizing squads with his inspirational man-management.
However, for long sections of the match it was a case of new manager, same old problems for Sunderland—until the dramatic finale.
Despite creating plenty of chances, there was a lack of sharpness or cutting edge up front. The team never looked assured at the back, either, and it was some defensive hesitancy that led to Blackburn's goal.
“For periods it was a microcosm of our season,” O'Neill said. “We played well enough, were not able to score and then succumb to a poor goal. But I thought the players were terrific, the way they kept at it.
“I thought we deserved to win the game. We've got some points which is vital for confidence and the crowd. The roar for the equalizer you could have heard miles away.”
Vukcevic had the simple task of heading the ball into an unguarded net from six yards after Sunderland goalkeeper Kieran Westwood could only parry out a deflected shot by Christopher Samba, who was given plenty of time and space to bring down Morten Gamst Pedersen's free kick.
Kieran Richardson wasted a golden chance to equalize within two minutes when his close-range shot was smothered by Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson following an awful defensive mistake by Jason Lowe, before Sunderland pair Stephane Sessegnon and Vaughan fired off target when well placed later in the half.
Sunderland dominated possession after the break, too, and Robinson had to be at his acrobatic best to tip over a deflected volley by Richardson in the 65th.
Sessegnon then sent an attempt from an overhead kick just over before Vaughan latched onto Adam Henley's weak headed clearance with a piledriver that left Robinson rooted to the spot.
Larsson then justified his tag as one of the Premier League's best free-kick takers to earn Sunderland only its third win of the season.
“I'm really, really disappointed,” said under-pressure Blackburn manager Steve Kean, who was forced to withdraw left back Gael Givet in the 22nd minute because the former France international had heart palpitations.
Fellow defender Lowe was then carried off on a stretcher in second-half injury time after being elbowed in the face by Larsson as the pair challenged for a header.