STEPHANE Sessegnon’s second in as many games rescued a point for Sunderland after clawing back a two-goal deficit against Sunderland.
A hugely controversial penalty awarded by referee Mark Halsey gifted Fulham the lead at the Stadium of Light, with Dimitar Berbatov converting from the spot.
The Cottagers then doubled their advantage on the counter-attack from Sunderland’s own corner when Sascha Riether bundled the ball into an empty net.
But Sunderland immediately pulled one back with a debatable spot-kick of their own as Craig Gardner netted his seventh goal of the season.
Sunderland piled on the pressure in the second half for a leveller and were rewarded with 20 minutes to go when Sessegnon struck, moments after a crucial save from Simon Mignolet, to end a run of three successive defeats.
Martin O’Neill named an unchanged line-up from the one which lost at West Brom seven days earlier, with Danny Graham continuing to partner Steven Fletcher up front.
But Sunderland were unable to name a full-strength bench, with Matt Kilgallon missing out through illness.
Counterpart Martin Jol stuck with the same XI too, although there was a spot on the bench for former Sunderland utility man Kieran Richardson after shaking off a calf problem.
Sunderland almost broke the deadlock with a minute on the clock when Adam Johnson’s corner from the right found John O’Shea at the near post, who directed his header inches wide, into the side netting.
A subdued period followed, before the game sparked into controversy in the 15th minute.
Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah received the ball down the left-hand side of the area, one-on-one with Craig Gardner.
The Sunderland full-back wafted out a right leg, but there was minimal contact before Dejagah threw himself to the ground theatrically.
Referee Mark Halsey initially looked as if he was going to book Dejagah for diving, but after a lengthy wait, he opted to award the spot-kick.
Dimitar Berbatov stepped up and clinically slotted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner, with Simon Mignolet left motionless.
Dejagah almost added a second in the 25th minute when he got the wrong side of Gardner to Mark Schwarzer’s hoof forward, but with only Mignolet to beat, he thrashed a left-footed shot wide of the far post.
The Cottagers did double their advantage after Sunderland were caught from their own corner.
Dejagah broke on the edge of his area and fed Bryan Ruiz who carried the ball to the edge of his area.
Ruiz fed the overlapping Dejagah down the right and his cross was spilled by Mignolet into the path of Sascha Riether who tapped into the empty net.
But immediately, Sunderland were handed a lifeline as Gardner lifted a ball over the top for Graham, who was held back by Philippe Senderos.
Halsey immediately pointed to the spot and Gardner stepped up to send Schwarzer the wrong way, burying it in the far right corner.
Sessegnon had been Sunderland’s brightest attacking threat and the Benin international stung the palms of Schwarzer two minutes before the interval after unleashing a dipping low at the end of a mazy run, which the Aussie pushed behind.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 1 Fulham 2
Graham had a superb chance to open his account for Sunderland two minutes after the break when Fletcher’s effort from Johnson’s centre deflected into the path of the January signing, 10 yards out.
The £5million man managed to dig the ball out from under his feet, but his shot was tame and Schwarzer was able to gather low to his right.
Alfred N’Diaye whistled a shot over the bar in the 57th minute after being teed up by Sessegnon 25 yards out.
Mignolet made a game-changing save in the 69th minute after Ruiz lifted a ball over the top for Berbatov, who hit a first-time half-volley that was brilliantly kept out by the legs of the Belgian stopper.
Sunderland broke and when the ball came out to Johnson the left, his pull-back was deflected off Senderos into the path of Sessegnon on the edge of the area, who cushioned a low right-footed shot into the far corner to level.
The Black Cats were unfortunate in the 75th minute when Gardner’s drilled cross just evaded the dives of Fletcher and Graham.
Moments later, McClean was introduced from the bench to boos from a section of the home crowd.
Berbatov then placed a harmless shot too close to Mignolet from the edge of the area after receiving a fortuitous deflection the wrong side of the Sunderland back four.
Sunderland had a huge shout for a second penalty in the 79th minute when substitute Emmanuel Frimpong blocked Johnson’s shot with an outstretched arm.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 2 Fulham 2
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, O’Shea, Bramble, Colback, Sessegnon, N’Diaye, Larsson, Johnson, Fletcher, Graham (McClean 76). Subs not used: Westwood, Bardsley, Vaughan, Mangane, Cuellar. Booked: N’Diaye (74)
FULHAM: Schwarzer, Riether, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Sidwell, Karagounis (Frimpong 65), Dejagah (Rodallega 85), Duff (Emmanuelson 80), Ruiz, Berbatov. Subs not used: Petric, Richardson, Hughes, Etheridge. Booked: Hangeland (60), Sidwell (73), Riether (88)
Referee: Mark Halsey (Manchester)
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