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Match analysis: Cardiff City 2 Sunderland 2
AT 2-0 down, bottom of the Premier League and 300 miles from home in another country, Sunderland’s supporters broke into song.
Their choice of music neatly sums up the club’s situation. While last season they went for Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds - “every little thing is going to be alright” - on Saturday the travelling support opted to sing D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better.
They are right. They can, and did, Sunderland scoring two late goals to rescue a precious point and preserve an unbeaten record which stretched to a fifth game.
But Sunderland fans, maybe more than most, know that while things can get better, they can also get worse.
Poorer Sunderland teams have donned the red and white jerseys in recent years. The 2005 team was dead and buried before Christmas, mathematically so before Easter.
Any reports of this particular team’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
In Gus Poyet Sunderland have a dynamic manager, unwilling to betray his style of play, even when natural instinct, at 80 minutes in at Cardiff, would be to throw attackers on, change the shape, move the ball forward as quickly as possible.
A point at Cardiff has put Sunderland in a commanding position going into New Year’s Day’s game against Aston Villa.
As Poyet himself puts it, it is in Sunderland’s hands.
“When we took over, there was a big gap between us and the rest, we are one win away from getting out of the relegation zone now, which is a great feeling, for the fans and the players, it's fantastic,” said the Uruguayan after Steven Fletcher and Jack Colback cancelled out Jordan Mutch and Fraizer Campbell’s goals for Cardiff.
“It's up to us. Somehow, we are five games unbeaten. When you are at the bottom, nobody pays attention to that. We are defending very well until Saturday, we weren't scoring enough yet at Cardiff we did, so we are going in the right direction.
“There is hope we can maintain this consistency and go into the new year with a few more points.”
Lady Luck has not exactly been smiling on Wearside this season, and it looked as though it would be the same story at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday when Fabio Borini became unwell at half-time and had to be taken to hospital.
“Fabio's feeling better,” reported Poyet. “He didn't fly back with us, he stayed in Cardiff on Saturday night, he was released from hospital so luckily it wasn't anything serious. We were a bit worried because he was really sick, so the club doctor rightly decided to take him to hospital but he was released soon after. It was a virus, or some sickness, no problems.
“He was sick before the game, but he wanted to play. Sometimes you need to make a decision between the manager and the player, and he asked to play.
“He did quite well and had some great opportunities, but half-time he was the other way, he was looking down and weak, so we decided to bring him off. We didn't give him a choice at the time, and the doctor checked him twice before taking him to hospital.”
Sunderland could have been out of the relegation zone on Saturday night had they beaten the Bluebirds, but will be relieved with winning a point at Cardiff after looking out of it for 75 minutes.
Mutch was in among the action with seconds on the clock when he was booked for simulation in the area after he fell easily from a Valentin Roberge challenge, but made good his indiscretion five minutes later when he drove through Sunderland's defence and drilled a shot in via a deflection off Modibo Diakite.
Sunderland found themselves under the cosh from Cardiff, under temporary charge by David Kerslake following Malky Mackay’s dismissal late last week. But they had their chances to get back into the game, when Jozy Altidore somehow missed from two yards out when it seemed easier to score.
On the stroke of half-time, Borini's half-volley from Phil Bardsley's cross had to be pushed around the post by David Marshall.
Cardiff increased their lead on 58 minutes when former Black Cat Campbell tapped in from close range from Mutch’s cross, and it took the introduction of Colback and Craig Gardner to spur Sunderland into life with 15 minutes to go.
Fletcher’s poke past David Marshall set up a grandstand finale, with defenders Phil Bardsley and Valentin Roberge staying up front with the minutes ticking by. Roberge's volley was well saved by Marshall, before Emanuele Giaccherini curled wide, but up popped Colback to fire a deflected effort past Marshall from Ki Sung-Yeung’s cross and Roberge's clever lay-off.
While it was Colback’s goal that saved the game for Sunderland, perhaps Fletcher’s contribution will be more important as the Premier League season moves into the second half.
The Scotsman’s first goal since the 2-1 win over Newcastle in October could be the catalyst for more vital goals in the race against relegation, Poyet feels.
“I think it's going to be good for everybody, but Fletcher particularly,” said Poyet. “People have been a little unfair on him because he hadn't scored, I always say we need to give him the opportunities, the team needs to do its bit to give him the chance.
“He had two, one went in, so fantastic. I'm sure that – sometimes we don't realise how difficult it is, it's easy to throw it up to them – it's going to be an easier game for him now against Villa.
“We need him on Wednesday. He's got goals all over him. He can benefit from Jozy playing too, which happened on Saturday, but we're working on it, I will help him. Of course he needs to do his bit and he's trying very hard.
“Strikers use the momentum so hopefully this will help him to score more.”
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