Ten-man Sunderland came from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Stoke City in a match Paulo Di Canio’s side could have won.
A terrible first half saw the relegation-threatened hosts go into half-time a goal and a man down after Jonathan Walters finished at a set-piece before Craig Gardner was shown a straight red card for a terrible tackle on Charlie Adam.
But the second half was far more engaging as, despite their numerical disadvantage, Sunderland took the game to Tony Pulis’s side, with John O'Shea finishing at a corner to draw the sides level.
Both sides missed good chances, with Black Cats defender Danny Rose hitting the post, but a draw was the fair result and one that appeared to please both coaches.
The result means Stoke are not quite mathematically safe but should stay in the top flight; Sunderland move above Norwich and Newcastle on goal difference to 15th place, three points clear of the bottom three with two matches remaining although Wigan in 18th have a game in hand.
Given Sunderland’s predicament and Stoke’s ‘style’, it was never set to be a classic example of the beautiful game, but the first half really was a dirge.
Stoke were happy to defend in numbers and occasionally knock high balls up to the triple-pronged attack of Peter Crouch, Cameron Jerome and Walters.
Sunderland were lacking a cutting edge on account of injuries to Steven Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon and Connor Wickham. Danny Graham – who has not scored since his £5 million move from Swansea – started as a lone target man but found his midfielders reluctant to push up for flick-ons, with the exception of a lively Adam Johnson.
The only two points of interest in the opening 45 minutes were crucial though.
First Sunderland went to sleep at an Adam corner – criminal, given the Potters’ dominance at set pieces – allowing Walters to finish at the second attempt after his initial header was blocked on the line by Graham.
Gardner was at fault for letting Walters peel off him too easily, but there was worse to come from the former Aston Villa midfielder.
There had been a running battle between Gardner and Adam but there was no excuse for the former’s loss of discipline when he launched into a reckless, dangerous and potentially ankle-breaking tackle on the Scotland international.
Referee Lee Mason rightly dismissed the Black Cats midfielder, with play held up as Sunderland accused Adam of play-acting before a disgruntled fan entered the field.
Gardner will now miss the season run-in, joining a big-name list of absentees as Sunderland battle to avoid the drop.
A man and a goal down, Sunderland had it all to do but they did at least attempt to force Stoke back, but the closest they came to a shot on target was a Johnson free-kick that flew wide of Asmir Begovic’s far post.
Di Canio was brought to Sunderland for his motivation skills and he likely had some strong words at the break as his team came out with renewed vigour.
A fine Johnson cross just missed Graham, Sebastian Larsson’s pile-driver was blocked, and a superb solo run by Johnson boosted the home fans although his final shot was too close to Begovic.
Dean Whitehead then cleared off the line from O’Shea and, while Stoke occasionally threatened on the break such as when Cameron Jerome had one effort saved and another blocked, Sunderland’s equaliser was more than deserved.
Ironically enough it was rather Stoke-like in its execution, as Larsson’s excellent corner shaved the head of Whitehead to land nicely for O’Shea, who had inched away from Ryan Shawcross and drilled a low finish through Begovic.
That made for an entertaining finish as both sides had chances to win it, Simon Mignolet saving well from Whitehead and Steven NZonzi putting an overhead kick over from a corner, while for the hosts a fantastic Danny Rose drive hit the post before an excellent Johnson cross landed for an unmarked but surprised James McClean, who was unable to control it.
Both sides tired in the latter stages, and both will be equally happy with the point, but the run-in could still see anyone from 18th to 11th join Reading and QPR in the Championship.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Danny Rose (Sunderland) – Direct going forward and crisp in the tackle, the left-back could have won it for Sunderland with a fine strike off the post.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7, Colback 6, Rose 8, Cuellar 7, O'Shea 7, N'Diaye 7, Larsson 6, Gardner 4, Johnson 7, McClean 5, Graham 6; Subs: Vaughan NA, Bardsley NA
STOKE: Begovic 7, Shotton 7, Wilson 6, Huth 6, Shawcross 6, Whitehead 6, Adam 7, N'Zonzi 7, Walters 7, Crouch 6, Jerome 6; Subs: Cameron 6, Etherington NA, Jones NA
- Sports & Recreation
- Jonathan Walters
- Charlie Adam
- Cameron Jerome