Chris Young: Fabio Borini may have scored another of those seismic relegation battle goals
If ever a celebration told a story, then there was no masking the message from Fabio Borini as he raced over to the Sunderland bench after a 90th minute Exocet.
Borini has evidently been frustrated at losing his place out wide to an orthodox striker, and bizarrely didn’t even get on the field at West Ham on Saturday, despite Sunderland’s desperate search for an elusive equaliser.
Even last night, the Italian might not have got his chance with 10 minutes to go had Lee Cattermole not been forced off with blood pouring from a facial wound after a clash of heads with Jordon Mutch.
The reluctance to use Borini has been a puzzler from Sam Allardyce.
While Dame N’Doye got his first Sunderland goal last night – albeit thanks to a hefty deflection off Scott Dann – Borini is the obvious candidate for that role.
Perhaps N’Doye offers more of the aerial threat that Allardyce is looking for, yet the on-loan Trabzonspor striker flits in and out of the game, and clearly wants to be in that more familiar central role.
Admittedly, Borini’s second coming at the Stadium of Light has been somewhat underwhelming after the £10million summer move from Liverpool, yet those who greeted the former Liverpool’s introduction to the action so vociferously last night still remember the impact he made during his loan spell on Wearside and that knack of grabbing important goals.
Think back. Four of them came during the final five games of 2013-14.
Potentially, last night’s could be one of Borini’s most vital in Sunderland colours.
Had Sunderland come away empty-handed, then the club’s desperate hopes of remaining in the Premier League might have been fatally wounded.
Points-wise, Sunderland would still have been in contention but psychologically, it would have come as an almighty blow for Allardyce’s side, particularly as they appeared to be in control as the clock ticked past the hour mark.
It would have been another example of Sunderland contriving to find a way to suffer defeat from the jaws of a point or three after demonstrating that habit at West Ham last weekend.
After getting their noses in front through N’Doye’s strike from 25 yards, Sunderland had landed the first punch in a game which was surprisingly open.
Vito Mannone had produced a magnificent save to keep out Dann’s header from a Yohan Cabaye corner, yet Sunderland survived and put themselves on course for victory.
Jan Kirchhoff was again controlling proceedings from the holding role, while Jack Rodwell took his chance well, with some aggressive challenges and driving runs forwards.
But once Connor Wickham smashed the ball home off the inside of the far post at the end of a well-worked Palace 61st minute move, Sunderland completely imploded.
From being in the hunt for a ‘killer’ second goal just moments earlier, Sunderland became utterly rank, almost at the turn of a switch.
Predictably, Palace promptly went ahead after Sunderland failed to deal with a routine corner and Wickham clattered the ball home on the volley from inside the six-yard box.
Again, Sunderland’s inability to keep a clean sheet haunts their efforts to remain in the Premier League.
A 1-0 win and a first shut-out since November would have been a perfect result for Allardyce, who has spent weeks (or is it months?) bemoaning the failure to prevent opposition sides scoring cheap goals.
Mentally, the effects of Wickham’s opener were clear to see. The striker who had kept Sunderland in the top flight two years ago with five goals in three games, looked to have scored the goals to send the Black Cats into the Championship.
Even now, Borini’s last-minute strike may not be sufficient for Sunderland to remain in the Premier League.
Realistically, this was a game that Sunderland needed to win and an inability to register maximum points may be hugely costly.
Although Allardyce’s side moved out of the relegation zone last night, their stint above the line will be short-lived if travel-sick Newcastle can get a point or three at Stoke City tonight.
In the final reckoning, this may well prove to be a case of two points dropped, rather than one point saved.
But after Allardyce made a quip about the encounter being no good for his heart-rate in his post-match press conference, there was a notable smile on his face.
Sunderland’s survival hopes are still alive and if – yes, it’s a HUGE if – the Black Cats can get a victory at Southampton on Saturday, then they will have fulfilled Allardyce’s objective of four points from three games.
Borini could have netted another of those seismic goals in the relegation dogfight.