Black Cats facing dogfight

STEVE BRUCE is digging in for a fight after Sunderland passed up the chance to drag themselves clear of the relegation battle.

The Black Cats are only four points clear of the drop zone after being held by Wigan – just five days after a depressing stalemate with Stoke at the Stadium of Light. Bruce had identified these two games as the time to stop the rot but they came and went with a whimper.

Sunderland are without a league win in 11 attempts dating back to November 21 – when they beat Arsenal – and have collected just five points from the last 33. They will be looking uncomfortably over their shoulders as they head for crisis club Portsmouth tomorrow night, and then the Gunners 11 days later.

Bruce said: “We can’t throw in the towel. If we can get a good response down at Portsmouth, we know we are capable of winning the match.”

Sunderland will have to start better than they did here. They were little short of pitiful as an expensive team featuring loan signing Alan Hutton was decidedly second best.

The visitors deservedly took the lead through Mohamed Diame’s stunning 20th-minute strike, which surprised Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. Martinez said: “I haven’t seen him striking the ball like that before. It was a great finish.”

Sunderland were roundly booed by their own fans at half-time despite Kenwyne Jones clipping the outside of the post with a deflected shot and Lee Cattermole forcing a good save from Chris Kirkland.

Sunderland improved after the break and grabbed the equaliser when, with 64 minutes gone, Jones powered home a header from Jordan Henderson’s cross.

Sunderland might have won when Darren Bent steered a shot towards the bottom corner, only to see it blocked by Jones.

Bruce said: “It hit Kenwyne on the line, that just about sums us up.”

To make matters worse, Henderson was stretchered off with an ankle injury which could sideline the 19-year-old for several months.

MATCH RATING: * – Diame’s strike for Wigan apart, it was mediocre stuff.

REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) 5/10 – Nine yellow cards in the match, but did he miss a penalty when Sunderland’s Andy Reid was sent sprawling in the box?


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