independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Sunderland fight back to earn draw

Adam Johnson, left, scored Sunderland's equaliser

Adam Johnson struck for the fourth time in a week as Sunderland staged an unlikely fightback to snatch a 2-2 Barclays Premier League draw against Southampton.

The 26-year-old, who plundered a hat-trick at Fulham last weekend, smashed home a 71st-minute equaliser to prevent his side from slipping to a costly home defeat.

But just how Southampton left Wearside with only a point will have been the topic of a post-match debate as Mauricio Pochettino's men failed to kill off a game they dominated for an hour at the end of a difficult week.

Jay Rodriguez fired the visitors into a fourth-minute lead, and when defender Dejan Lovren volleyed home 14 minutes before the break, the Black Cats were in disarray.

But Fabio Borini pulled one back within seconds to set the stage for Johnson's late contribution as the Saints squandered a host of opportunities and ruined Pochettino's hopes of celebrating a year in charge with a victory.

Opposite number Gus Poyet was able to take comfort from the battling qualities which earned his team another precious point, but they remain inside the relegation zone and are still to win back-to-back league games this season.

Sunderland went into the game brimming with confidence after the 4-1 victory at Fulham and anticipating Wednesday night's Capital One Cup semi-final, second leg trip to Manchester United.

But to Poyet's horror, what unfolded during the opening 45 minutes was the antithesis of what he had seen at Craven Cottage as slick Southampton out-thought, out-muscled and out-played his side.

With Jack Cork anchoring the midfield, Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana had the freedom to exploit the space between the red and white lines, and the visitors threatened to run riot.

They took the lead when Rodriguez made the most of Marcos Alonso's failure to clear his lines, teeing himself up to fire firmly into the bottom corner from the edge of the box with goalkeeper Vito Mannone helpless.

It could have been 2-0 with 18 minutes gone when Johnson deflected Luke Shaw's cross on to the post with Mannone wrong-footed, and Rickie Lambert wasted a glorious opportunity three minutes later when he shot across the face of goal from Schneiderlin's pass.

Rodriguez should have doubled his tally with 29 minutes played when Lambert robbed Wes Brown after the defender took a poor first touch and fed him, but he shot tamely at Mannone.

But the keeper was beaten again two minutes later when central defender Lovren met Davis' corner ahead of Brown and volleyed home.

However, seconds later Johnson crossed from the right for Borini to control and scuff a shot past keeper Artur Boruc, who got a hand to the ball, but could not keep it out.

The Saints continued with their progressive approach in the second half and Davis fired over from distance after full-back Shaw was allowed to run from his own half and thump a shot into Mannone's midriff.

Fellow defender Calum Chambers called up Mannone once again with a speculative 55th-minute effort, and the Italian needed two attempts to collect Rodriguez's effort seconds later after Schneiderlin and Lallana had capitalised on Brown's wayward pass.

The keeper denied Lovren and Shaw again within seconds as the hour-mark arrived, and he was relieved to see Rodriguez fire into the side-netting under pressure from Phil Bardsley after Lallana and Lambert had combined.

Borini thought he had levelled after being played in by substitute Craig Gardner with 64 minutes gone, but he did so from an offside position and the strike was correctly chalked off.

But they were not to be denied and Gardner was the provider once again with 19 minutes remaining when he fed Johnson on the right and saw him smash a rising shot past Boruc's less-than-effective defences and into the roof of the net.

The Poland international saved from Gardner and fellow substitute Steven Fletcher in quick succession as Sunderland went for broke, and it was the Saints who were more grateful to hear the final whistle after having substitute Gaston Ramirez and Jose Fonte carried off within seconds of each other.

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