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Wednesday 16 April 2014

O'Shea steps up to rescue crucial point for 10-man Sunderland

Sunderland 1 Stoke City 1

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio reacts as John O'Shea scores their side's equaliser

CAPTAIN John O'Shea popped up with what could prove to be a vital goal for Sunderland's relegation battle as they drew comfort of jumping two places up the table thanks to a hard-earned point.

Just as darkness gripped the Stadium of Light, Sunderland fought back. Trailing to Jonathan Walters' early goal and losing Craig Gardner to a filthy late tackle on Charlie Adam, Sunderland could have folded but O'Shea equalised midway through the second half as their fans screamed themselves hoarse.

The draw lifts Sunderland to 15th in the table, rising above Newcastle United and Norwich City on goal difference, and kept Stoke in 11th, as all eyes now turn tonight to see how 18th-placed Wigan Athletic fare against Swansea City.

Paolo Di Canio had called for more passion, for more effort to ensure that another "humiliation" like the 6-1 loss to Aston Villa would not repeated. He said it was an affront to the "dignity" of the club. But teams need more than raucous rhetoric. Even taking into account the shortages in Sunderland's squad it was still surprising to see James McClean starting on the right.

Another surprise was the occasional high ball lifted towards Stoke's defence, a treat for Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross, certainly in the first half.

Sunderland's own defending failed with the first question asked of it.

Charlie Adam's corner was drilled in hard, and was met strongly by Walters.

His header crashed into Danny Graham and rebounded back. Walters was the quickest to the loose ball, ramming it in. The 355 Stoke fans high up under the rafters loved it.

The rest of the 38,130 crowd seethed with frustration but continued to voice their support. Nerves seeped into Di Canio's players, poor control scarring their attempts at finding a passage back into the game. Gardner needlessly conceded a corner, almost comically.

McClean hammered a shot so far wide, the fans sighed in disbelief. Adam Johnson was in the Stephane Sessegnon role, playing off Graham, roaming left and right, looking for support or a chance of a shot. Johnson lost the ball, prompting a smattering of moans. Sunderland looked a side drained of belief.

Anger

Their fans sensed it. Anger spilt from the terraces too. Cameron Jerome then went in studs-up on Danny Rose, escaping any punishment. The Stadium of Light was furious when Carlos Cuellar was then cautioned for catching Jerome.

Gardner and Adam had been niggling away at each other when the Sunderland No 8 decided to inject some venom into the duel.

Adam was going in hard and fast so Gardner accelerated and redirected his leading foot, catching the Scot on the ankle. It was a horrific challenge.

He could have broken Adam's ankle.

Lee Mason handled the situation well, first calming the inevitable pushing and arguing amongst the combatants. Mason was fortunate to have one of the world's leading assistant referees, Darren Cann, close by. It was a straightforward call anyway and Mason duly produced a red card. As Gardner trudged towards the tunnel, Di Canio brought Jack Colback back from his left-wing role to fill in at right-back.

Sunderland kept hunting that equaliser. Johnson sent a free-kick just wide.

In the second half, Johnson skipped past a couple of tackles and fired goalwards but straight into the arms of Asmir Begovic.

O'Shea was getting closer, having a shot cleared by Dean Whitehead off the line. The game flowed from end to end, and Simon Mignolet saved well from Steven N'Zonzi. But with the clock showing 64, O'Shea reacted well to turn in a Larsson corner. Di Canio turned towards the stand and screamed his delight.

Then Whitehead's shot thudded goalwards but Mignolet saved well. Stoke were beginning to regain control. Mignolet stood up to the challenge, punching clear an Adam corner that swirled menacingly in to the area. Then Mignolet looked relieved as an Adam shot sped wide. Yet Sunderland, even with depleted numbers, had not given up hope of all the points. Rose cut inside and his right-footed shot clipped the post and slipped away. When Graham got close with 10 minutes left, Di Canio almost burst out of his suit as he kicked an imaginary ball with particular anger.

Pulis removed Adam, sending on Matthew Etherington. The winger soon began curling in corners from the right, one of which was met by a hooked effort from N'Zonzi but over. Now it was Di Canio's turn to make a change, introducing David Vaughan. Sunderland strived hard for the winner. McClean's shot hammered into the heel of Shawcross. Rose then won a free-kick. Vaughan shot wide. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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