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O'Neill gets close view of Sunderland's problems

Updated: December 04, 2011, 13:49


FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2010 file photo, Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill waves to the crowd after their English Premier League soccer match against Fulham at the Craven Cottage Stadium, London. O'Neill has been hired as the new manager of Sunderland, returning to the English Premier League nearly 16 months after quitting Aston Villa. The 59-year-old Northern Irishman has signed a three-year contract and takes over from Steve Bruce, who was fired on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, with the team in 16th place in the Premier League _ two points above the relegation zone.  (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi, file)

LONDON(AP) Martin O'Neill got an idea of the problems he has to deal with at Sunderland when he watched his new team lose 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League on Sunday.

With Kieran Richardson having put Sunderland ahead shortly after halftime, the former Celtic and Aston Villa coach watched from the stands as his club missed a chance for 2-0 when goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey saved a penalty from Sebastian Larsson.

Steven Fletcher equalized immediately from the resulting counterattack and scored again with nine minutes left to lift his team above Sunderland in the standings.

O'Neill will officially succeed the fired Steve Bruce as manager on Monday, with the side he supported as a boy just one point and one place above the bottom three.

Richardson gave Sunderland a 52nd-minute lead at the end of a stunning length-of-the-field counterattack. Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon combined to release Richardson in the area and the forward smashed an angled shot high into the net.

Larsson won a penalty kick when he tumbled to the ground theatrically under a challenge from Jody Craddock, although replays showed that any slight contact appeared to occur just outside the area.

Hennessey saved the kick low to his left and rolled the ball out for the 73rd-minute counter that ended with Fletcher heading in a cross by Matt Jarvis. Eight minutes later, Fletcher scored the winner with a left-foot shot from about 12 meters (yards).

"It was a superb goal they scored but the crowd stuck with us and it was a great team effort,'' Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said. "Wayne was brilliant. He's one of the best in the league for me. He's very young but he's proved again that he's an outstanding goalkeeper.''

Wolves moved up two places to 15th, two points ahead of Sunderland. Only Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan in the relegation zone are below the Black Cats.

With all the high-flying clubs having played Saturday - partly to give Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal an extra day rest before their midweek Champions League assignments - Stoke won 1-0 at Everton in Sunday's other game.

Defender Robert Huth's first goal of the campaign - the German defender turned Dean Whitehead's 15th-minute shot into the net - meant that Stoke recorded a victory after a Europa League match for only the second time this season.

Apostolos Vellios made just his second start up front for Everton in place of Louis Saha, and his club did not pose enough of a threat in the opposition penalty area despite dominating the second half.

Stoke rose five places to eighth, two points ahead of Everton.

"It has been a great week for the club, " Stoke manager Tony Pulis said. "To get six points and to qualify for the latter stages of the Europa League is first class. We have had a dip of form, which most clubs do, and we have shown a lot of character and spirit the last week.''

Leader City stayed five points ahead of United with a 5-1 win over Norwich, while United won 1-0 at Aston Villa. Chelsea won 3-0 at Newcastle, Arsenal won 4-0 at Wigan and third-place Tottenham beat Bolton 3-0.

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