Football Echo Verdict: The miracle is on for Sunderland!

GOAL JOY ... Connor Wickham celebrates his equalising goal for Sunderland in the sensational victory at Chelsea.
GOAL JOY ... Connor Wickham celebrates his equalising goal for Sunderland in the sensational victory at Chelsea.
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“MIRACLES happen Gus,” read the home-made banner draped over the advertising boards in the away end.

Ending Jose Mourinho’s 77-game unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge, particularly after Sunderland seemed to have used up their wild card at Manchester City on Wednesday, certainly seemed to fall into the category of needing divine intervention.

But call it miracle, call it dogged determination, call it a refusal to accept relegation, Sunderland are now back in the survival race.

Norwich’s meeting with Liverpool tomorrow will undoubtedly affect that statement, but if the Canaries succumb to the league leaders, then Sunderland now genuinely have a chance of an unbelievable escape.

Sunderland will have to end the pattern of Stadium of Light struggles and no-shows against their bottom half peers, but what had seemed an impossible task, is suddenly plausible.

It was reward for a remarkably gutsy defensive display from the Black Cats, regardless of what Chelsea threw at them.

Chelsea enjoyed the vast majority of territory and possession in the first half, yet didn’t offer a lot of threat from open play.

Sunderland were well-organised in getting men behind the ball and kept their defensive shape rigidly in showing Chelsea’s flyers inside and preventing them getting away shots from the edge of the area.

But from set pieces, Sunderland looked a nervous wreck.

Vito Mannone should have come for Willian’s corner for Samuel Eto’o’s opener, while Lee Cattermole bafflingly attempted to head the ball clear just a foot off the ground.

It didn’t get any better even after Connor Wickham’s equaliser - Mannone again hesitating from a corner before just managing to deflect Branislav Ivanovic’s header onto the bar.

Mannone’s howler at Manchester City had clearly affected the Italian and he was again fortunate to escape with his his failure to get a clean connection on Mohamed Salah’s cross before the break.

Somehow, Mike Dean then failed to spot Seb Larsson’s blatant push on Ramires as he attempted to go for the rebound, although a retributory elbow on the Swede - just two yards away from the referee - was even more inexplicably missed.

Chelsea looked far more threatening after the break though, particularly with the elusive running of Willian.

Maybe a Mourinho rocket was the root cause of the improvement. Maybe it was a sense of relief for Ramires’ fortunate escape.

But the hosts moved suddenly began to move the ball around with more pace and more intent, and Sunderland were forced to desperately cling on to maintain parity.

Sunderland survived that crucial opening 15 minute spell of the second half though and after weathering that storm, anxiety gradually began to creep into Chelsea’s play.

Chelsea still remained firmly on top, but it wasn’t as if the Black Cats were being ripped apart by Jose Mourinho’s side.

Mannone still looked edgy, while Cattermole was needlessly caught in possession on several occasions, yet Sunderland’s defences held firm.

That doggedness was rewarded as Chelsea were hit by the classic sucker punch as Jozy Altidore pounced on Cesar Azpilicueta’s slip to win the penalty which Fabio Borini converted with ice-cool composure.

Unlike at Manchester City, Sunderland held on.

What had seemed an utterly hopeless situation at the foot of the Premier League table, suddenly doesn’t quite seem such an impossible job.

Twitter @youngsunecho

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