It was a problem, Steve Bruce seethed, which continued to "rear its ugly head". Unaware that Darren Bent was about to make an allegation fitting such a description – that his mother was "racially abused" by a Sunderland fan at Wigan – Bruce was merely bemoaning his team's away form.
Bent's claim came in his online "tweet", to which he later added: "The offender needs to hope I don't find out his name or who he is." Bruce will want to see Sunderland's promised inquiry or the police investigation uncover a culprit. As a champion of black players – from Colombian Hugo Rodallega while Wigan manager to Sunderland's record-buy Bent – his sense of decency will have been offended.
The Sunderland manager's analysis of their latest away failure, a week after Arsenal were vanquished on Wearside and Wigan crashed 9-1 at Tottenham, suggested his patience with certain players was wearing thin. Like his successor at Wigan, Roberto Martinez, he believed the outcome rested less on technical considerations than on the question of mentality.
Martinez, indeed, termed it "a clash of mentalities". Bruce hinted that those who lacked the requisite inner strength might soon be moved on. "We've seen the ability. You can't beat Liverpool and Arsenal without it," he said. "That's the frustration. I just haven't seen enough of what we do in our own back yard against the smaller teams.
"I'll take responsibility; I didn't change the system and maybe I should have done, but it's not just about formations. We've got to show pride and bottle and endeavour."
In Bruce's book, talent minus temperament equals underachievement. "It's got to be about mentality. I've now seen it four times in four months. Every few weeks it rears its ugly head.
"When you get walloped, there's going to be a response. Wigan showed one whereas we thought we could just turn up and get a result."
For Martinez it was "one of those situations that separates men from boys". And with 14 minutes remaining, Rodallega's opportunism, allied to hapless defending by Paulo Da Silva and Marton Fulop, brought Wigan sweet redemption.
Wigan Athletic (4-2-3-1): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; Hendry, Diame; N'Ziogbia, Scharner, Rodallega; Scotland (Gomez, 55). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Cho, Amaya, Koumas, Sinclair, McCarthy.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Fulop; Bardsley, Turner, Da Silva (Healy, 84), McCartney (Zenden, 84); Malbranque (Campbell, h-t), Henderson, Cana, Richardson, Reid; Bent. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Ferdinand, Nosworthy, Mensah.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Sunderland Turner, Reid, Bent.
Man of the match: Scharner.