John O’Shea earns vital point for 10-man Sunderland
Paolo Di Canio’s side move up to 15th on goal difference but are still very much involved in relegation struggle
Stoke City’s Jon Walters (right) prepares to fire the visitors in front against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light last night.
Sunderland 1 Stoke City 1
Points rarely come more hard-earned than these. A goal behind and down to ten men, Sunderland showed off their new, much strengthened mentality by forcing an unlikely draw thanks to John O’Shea’s second half equaliser.
It leaves Tony Pulis’s Stoke still in mathematical relegation peril but Sunderland in greater danger. Paolo Di Canio will take immense encouragement from the performance but Sunderland’s manager desperately needs his side to beat Southampton here on Sunday.
The heroes of Wembley 1973 made a pre kick-off appearance in the centre circle. Unfortunately for Di Canio the presence of Jimmy Montgomery, Bobby Kerr and fellow crew members from Sunderland’s famous FA Cup triumph over Leeds United 40 years ago failed to inspire Wearside’s class of 2013 to a strong start.
Instead Stoke assumed a swift lead. Charlie Adam whipped in a corner laced with pace and curve, Jon Walters lost his minder and, when his header rebounded off Simon Mignolet, Walters extended a boot and forced the ball over the line.
Although James McClean – deployed in an unfamiliar right wing role in which his manager encouraged him to frequently cut in on his preferred left foot while also attempting to use his right on the odd occasion – quickly tested Asmir Begovic with a shot, Sunderland were up against it.
It did not help that injuries to Steven Fletcher and Connor Wickham allied to Stephane Sessegnon’s suspension meant Danny Graham was Di Canio’s sole available senior forward.
Graham, deployed as a lone striker, with Adam Johnson floating in the hole just behind him, was seeking his first goal since his January move from Swansea. Sometimes he and Johnson – who contributed some clever passes – swapped roles but, generally, Stoke’s imposing defence held firm with Robert Huth offering reminders as to why he is dubbed “the Berlin Wall”.
A further hindrance to Di Canio’s hopes came in the shape of McClean. Begovic’s save aside, McClean saw an awful lot of the ball but did very little with it, some horrible touches perhaps suggesting the Irishman had become distracted by a running battle with Adam.
Fouling each other at ever opportunity the pair were embroiled in their own sub-plot and, after McClean wasted one chance to create a decent opening a furious Di Canio made his disgust plain before theatrically ordering Sunderland’s substitutes to warm up.
When Adam was the victim of an awful challenge, Sunderland were reduced to ten men but Craig Gardner, rather than McClean, was the culprit. As the lunging Gardner left the ground and his studs slammed into Adam’s ankle, Di Canio may have regretted saying, only last week, that his players were “very clean” and lacked a “bit of edge” and “devil.”
Di Canio responded to this setback thoughtfully, relocating the helpfully versatile Jack Colback from wide on the left to Gardner’s former right-back role, shifting McClean to the left and moving Johnson to the right wing. A rather less measured response came from an idiotic pitch invader who attempted to remonstrate with Huth.
Things had turned niggly on both sides and the yellow card count was rising but the second half saw the emphasis switch to some decent football and, perhaps endeavouring to erase a few of their manager’s frown lines, Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson, Alfred N’Diaye and Danny Rose all passed and moved slickly.
O’Shea had clearly been rehearsing for his centre half turned centre forward moment because when Larsson fizzed in a near post corner he reacted first to equalise. When Whitehead could only head the ball down in his direction, O’Shea saw the opening a millisecond before Ryan Shawcross and poked a close range shot beyond Begovic.