Sunderland 1 Wigan 1
Kenwyne Jones came to Sunderland’s rescue as the Black Cats staged a second-half fightback to deny Wigan victory.
The Trinidad and Tobago international headed home after 64 minutes to ease the growing unrest on Wearside after Mohamed Diame had blasted the visitors into a 20th-minute lead.
It was Jones’ seventh goal of the campaign and could hardly have come at a better time with his side staring down the barrel of an uncomfortable scrap for top-flight survival.
Steve Bruce’s men left the pitch at the break to catcalls after an insipid first-half display, but rallied after it to claim a point which did little to ease their troubles in the lower reaches of the Barclays Premier League table.
Sunderland are now without a win in 11 league games and have claimed only five of the last 33 points they have contested, although there was as much relief as disappointment for a crowd of 38,350 as they headed home knowing things could have been much worse.
For four months or so, Bruce could do little wrong as he threatened to lead the Black Cats into Europe.
But as the half-time whistle sounded, boos echoed around the Stadium of Light for the second time in less than a week as things went from bad to worse for the home side.
Bruce had admitted in the wake of the 2-0 defeat at Everton late last month that home games against Stoke and Wigan would define the club’s season, and that prediction was proving to be ominously prescient.
A drab 0-0 draw with the Potters meant victory over the Latics was a must, but Diame’s 20th-minute opener, as sweet a strike as he could have wished for, came with the run of play and the visitors were good value for their lead.
Paul Scharner had earlier passed up a glorious opportunity when he miskicked in front of goal after former Sunderland target Maynor Figueroa, Hugo Rodallega and James McCarthy had combined to open up the home defence with embarrassing ease.
Figueroa had also whistled a long-range effort just over and Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon was less than convincing as he parried Rodallega’s 42nd-minute overhead kick.
Bruce’s men were painfully short of both ideas and confidence as strikers Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones saw too little of the ball to make a real impact.
The Trinidad and Tobago international was unfortunate to see a 30th-minute shot glance off Figueroa and clip the outside of the post, while goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was a relieved man when the ball landed on the roof of his net after he had thrown out a hand to block Lee Cattermole’s rising drive 10 minutes later.
But in truth, central defenders Titus Bramble and Gary Caldwell barely had to break sweat during a desperately disappointing 45 minutes for the locals.
Sunderland returned with greater purpose to put the visitors under pressure on a sustained basis for the first time in the game, although the pace of Charles N’Zogbia and Rodallega on the break was ever-present.
Bent thought he was in when he ran on to Jones’ 55th-minute pass and rounded Kirkland, but the flag had gone up long before, and rightly so.
The game might have been over three minutes later when Emmerson Boyce’s misplaced pass was allowed to reach McCarthy, who surged into the box, but could not beat Gordon.
Play was switching rapidly from end to end and after Michael Turner had headed wastefully across goal at one end on the hour, N’Zogbia sliced wide at the other seconds later.
But Jones did not falter when presented with a 64th-minute opening, powering home a header from Jordan Henderson’s right-wing cross to lift the tension inside the stadium.
Henderson was soon to depart on a stretcher with what looked like a nasty ankle injury.
However, it was the Black Cats who were firmly in the ascendancy as the clock ran down and Bent might have snatched all three points as the game entered seven minutes of stoppage time, only for his goal-bound shot to be blocked by prone team-mate Jones.