Sunderland 2 Bolton 2
Kevin Davies struck twice to keep Bolton’s survival hopes alive after a hard-fought draw at Sunderland.
The 35-year-old striker volleyed the visitors in front with 26 minutes played and then snatched a point 20 minutes from time with a close-range header.
Nicklas Bendtner had cancelled out Bolton’s lead with a cool 36th-minute finish and the Black Cats looked to be on the road to victory when James McClean curled a 55th-minute free-kick past keeper Adam Bogdan.
But Davies’ intervention ensured Wanderers added a further point to the three they collected at Aston Villa in midweek to send themselves into Wednesday night’s home clash with Tottenham in confident mood.
Sunderland at least ended their barren run – they had not scored in four games before today – but they will have been disappointed not to be able to hang on to claim a first league win in six attempts in front of a crowd of 40,768.
Despite manager Martin O’Neill’s insistence to the contrary, the Black Cats have given the impression of a team with one eye on the summer in recent weeks, and for the opening half-hour or so they did little to dispel the notion.
They were simply not at the races, with the visitors providing all of the early impetus to create a series of promising openings.
Chris Eagles drilled a fourth-minute free-kick wide and David Ngog saw his seventh-minute shot blocked by Matt Kilgallon before Nigel Reo-Coker carved a path through the red and white shirts to blast a long-range effort just wide.
Keeper Craig Gordon, playing his first game of the season following a lengthy lay-off with a knee injury, was called upon for the first time when he got down to claim Mark Davies’ 10th-minute drive.
The traffic was largely one-way and Michael Turner had to throw himself into the path of Martin Petrov’s goal-bound 11th-minute shot.
Petrov turned provider with 25 minutes gone when he crossed from the left for Ngog to head high over the bar, but the Bulgarian repeated the dose seconds later and Kevin Davies was no so wasteful.
The midfielder’s cross found the striker unmarked at the far post and he volleyed expertly across Gordon and into the bottom corner to give Wanderers a deserved lead.
Sunderland belatedly found their feet as they sought a way back into the game and after Stephane Sessegnon had seen penalty appeals waved away, Kilgallon glanced a McClean free-kick just the wrong side of the post with keeper Adam Bogdan beaten 13 minutes before the break.
The equaliser eventually arrived four minutes later when Jack Colback slid a pass into Bendtner’s run and he controlled confidently before passing the ball past Bogdan and into the net.
Full-back Phil Bardsley’s hopes of being awarded a penalty when his shot struck Tim Ream’s foot and then his arm were never going to be answered in the affirmative, but O’Shea was denied by Bogdan after making an unlikely 38th-minute burst into the box.
However, Gordon had to react well to tip Ngog’s mishit volley over the bar in the final minute of the half with Bolton intent on collecting all the points on offer.
The Scotland international was in action once again within four minutes of the restart when Eagles’ swerving shot almost deceived him after the midfielder was allowed time and space to take aim.
Bolton were dominating once again, but contrived to surrender the advantage when Kevin Davies slid in late on Sessegnon to concede a 55th-minute free-kick 25 yards out.
McClean’s firmly struck shot curled over the defensive wall and despite the best efforts of Bogdan, who managed to get a hand to it, found the net via the underside of the crossbar.
Wanderers manager Owen Coyle made a double change with 64 minutes gone when he replaced Eagles and Ngog with Ryo Miyaichi and Ivan Klasnic, but his side almost fell further behind within two minutes when Fraizer Campbell curled a right-foot shot just over.
However, Bolton were back on level terms 20 minutes from time when full-back Sam Ricketts crossed for the unmarked Kevin Davies to head firmly past Gordon from five yards.
They might have snatched victory at the death when Kevin Davies headed down yet another Petrov cross to Klasnic, but Gordon managed to block his shot on the turn with his foot to spare his side further misery.