THE DISTRESSING news surrounding Fabio Borini threatened to overshadow events in South Wales.
As word began to filter through during the second half at the Cardiff City Stadium that Borini had been taken to hospital through illness, it put Sunderland’s troubles in the relegation dogfight into perspective.
Thankfully, within minutes of the final whistle, Borini was on the mend.
News of Sunderland’s stunning comeback won’t have done his convalescence any harm.
This was a massive point for Sunderland.
A defeat would have very much been two steps back after the giant leap forward at Everton.
After an afternoon of hugely favourable results elsewhere in the relegation battle, the incentive of moving out of the bottom three should have been massive for Sunderland.
Psychologically, emerging from the dregs for the first time since August at the halfway point of the campaign was a massive motivating factor.
But while Sunderland couldn’t secure a second successive victory, a draw was a big, big result – keeping the Black Cats’ points tally ticking over, the momentum in place and just as importantly, denying Cardiff victory.
The dramatic finale was a stark contrast to what proceeded it.
After a tumultuous 48 hours in the Valleys, a spirited opening from the hosts was entirely predictable, yet Sunderland seemed taken aback by Cardiff’s strong start.
The Black Cats couldn’t find their balance on the slick surface and they couldn’t find a pass either.
Time and again, Sunderland were either caught in possession or simply surrendered it with the cheapest of passes from the confines of their own half.
A defence which had looked so assured at Everton two days earlier, suddenly creaked with alarming fragility.
The lively Jordon Mutch should have netted two minutes before he opened the scoring, but the warning wasn’t heeded.
Had the Bluebirds been out of sight by the midway point of the half, Sunderland could have boasted no complaints.
Sunderland were ragged, unable to cope with Cardiff’s constant pressing or determination to prevent the visitors turning and delving into the opposition half.
It took until 25 minutes had passed, when Cardiff’s energy levels suffered a lull, for Sunderland to begin to show any sense of cohesion.
And then, despite such an awful opening from Poyet’s side, Sunderland could – and should – have been level by half-time.
Cardiff stopper David Marshall made three smart saves, but Jozy Altidore spurned the most gaping of opportunities when he somehow contrived to scuff an effort wide from two yards out.
Inevitably, the distressing interval developments involving Borini will have affected Sunderland’s players and they started the second half as they had done the first.
When Mutch ghosted past three dozing Sunderland players to cross for Fraizer Campbell to tap the ball in, a costly defeat looked assured.
But credit to Sunderland, they didn’t give up.
Even before Steven Fletcher pulled one back, they kept trying to create chances and once the Scot had netted his first goal since October, the comeback was on.
Just as it looked as if it would be too little, too late, Jack Colback popped up with a perfectly-timed first goal of the season.
Four points from trips to Everton and Cardiff? That’s a more than decent return and gives Sunderland real traction for Wednesday’s visit of Aston Villa.
Forget the first 75 minutes or so yesterday. Sunderland got something through pure effort and that’s not a bad trait to have.
*Don’t miss the last ever Football Echo – the bumper 48-page edition is out this morning