Sunderland 2 Fulham 2
James McClean delivered an impressive response to the minority of Sunderland supporters who jeered the Republic of Ireland international when he went on as a second-half substitute.
The winger ignored his critics and hinted at a return to his best form with a cameo performance that featured several excellent crosses as Sunderland searched for a winner.
The anti-McClean brigade was not large, but there is clearly an element who have been influenced by publicity about McClean’s love of the Wolfe Tones and his favourite song The Broad Black Brimmer.
McClean wrote about the band on his Twitter account, which has now closed, and was criticised by, among others, East Derry MP Gregory Campbell, of the DUP.
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill could not comment, insisting he did not hear the boos for McClean. “I’m too busy in the game,” he said. “I didn’t know because I’m into the game.”
While question marks remain about McClean’s future at Sunderland after the end of the season, O’Neill will have been delighted by his contribution in the closing stages.
Until then, it was a match dominated by two players. Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah was hugely influential as Martin Jol’s team established a two-goal lead by the 35th minute, then Stephane Sessegnon proved to be the catalyst for Sunderland’s revival as he produced one of his most compelling displays of a season when his standards have dipped too often.
Dejagah won the penalty that was arrogantly chipped in by Dimitar Berbatov in the 16th minute, then featured heavily in the build-up to their second goal from Sascha Riether.
Jol, who signed Dejagah from Wolfsburg for €3m last September, said: “He was always talented and the only thing now is that he needs to be more productive in front of goal because he’s got a great shot and he never shoots.
“He has a very good assist record this year with three or four and now I want to get it into his mind that he will improve in England — and that is what he wants as well.”
Perhaps Jol should have a word with O’Neill, who has been calling for more impact from Sessegnon — and finally had his demands satisfied.
O’Neill said :“He was absolutely outstanding. We said a few weeks ago that he would be priceless if he could add some goals to his game and he’s doing that now.”
Sessegnon’s equalising goal came in the 70th minute when he led a counter-attack after Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saved superbly from Berbatov.
Earlier, Sunderland had reduced the deficit with a Craig Gardner penalty after Phillipe Senderos fouled Danny Graham — and Senderos should have conceded another spot-kick in the closing stages, according to O’Neill.
Senderos handled inside the area, referee Mark Halsey turned down Sunderland’s appeals. O’Neill said: “I spoke to the referee after the game and he thinks there are a lot of soft penalties and I’m not disagreeing with that in general.
“But that’s not the point. If these are the rules now, and the directives we have to adhere to, then it’s a penalty. Senderos swung around and initially the ref might not have seen it, but he carried on swinging around and hit the ball. It’s a penalty and it’s as simple as that.”
Halsey’s decision guaranteed a draw that leaves Sunderland three points behind Fulham and six points above the relegation places, but Jol says: “I expect Sunderland and Fulham to be playing in the Premier League next season.
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