Late Chris Maguire penalty rescues a point for Sunderland after controversial Fleetwood opener
A late Chris Maguire penalty earned Sunderland a deserved point against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town.
The home side had been awarded a highly contentious penalty of their own early in the game to take the lead, but the Back Ctas had the better of the contest for the most part and deserved their point.
Fleetwood will nevertheless rue some key misses from Paddy Madden while they had the lead.
Sunderland had been looking to build some momentum after their timely win over Doncaster Rovers, but they started sluggishly and were almost punished when Paddy Madden found himself through on goal with little sign of the Sunderland defence recovering.
Madden took his effort early, trying to catch Jon McLaughlin of his line. He lifted his shot over the goalkeeper but it dropped wide of the near post.
The Black Cats were struggling to make much of an impession in the game early on, Chris Maguire registering their only effort when smashed a half volley wide of the post after Joel Lynch knocked a free kick down into his path.
Sunderland were punished for their slow start ten minutes in, even if there was significant controversy about the goal.
George Dobson had done superbly to head off the line when Ched Evans rose to head a corner towards goal, but the away side missed multiple chances to clear the lines and the referee blew for a foul when Charlie Wyke rose to challenge Josh Morris.
It looked harsh, but Evans took it well, sending McLaughlin the wrong way and putting his side ahead.
The Black Cats were fortunate moments later when Evans gathered a loose ball from a free kick, standing an excellent cross to the back post. Centre-back Harry Souttar was unmarked but opted to try and head he ball down for a team-mate. No one had read his pass and Sunderland were able to clear.
They should have been level when Lynden Gooch gathered a pass from Denver Hume inside the box, firing over the bar from close range.
Fleetwood swiftly broke down the other end, Alim Ozturk doing well to recover and block an effort from Evans after Madden had spun away from Maguire and played an excellent through ball.
From there, though, the home side lost their rhythm and seemed increasingly content to sit on their narrow lead.
That encouraged Sunderland and they began to have the better of the play.
Wyke forced a smart stop from Alex Cairns when he cut inside and fired an effort at goal, and Maguire came within finding the equaliser when he broke through on goal. An excellent touch at a crucial moment took the challenging defenders out of the equation, but Cairns was able to get a hand to his effort and the ball dribbled agonisingly clear of the post.
A concerned Fleetwood made a change at half time but Sunderland were still on top, desperately unlucky not to equalise moments after the interval.
Luke O’Nien played an excellent cross into the box, and Wyke met it with a thunderous header that beat Cairns but bounced away off the inside of the post.
The home side were seeing little of the ball, though McLaughlin had to be alert to make a smart stop as Danny Andrew met a corner with a first time volley on the edge of the box with just over half an hour to play.
Sunderland did not learn their lesson, and were indebted to the goalkeeper for another superb stop just a minute later when Andrew was again not picked up outside the area, gathering the corner and firing at goal.
Fleetwood were enjoying their best spell since the openign moments of the game, but Sunderland almost levelled with a fine counter. George Dobson played an excellent early pass from deep inside his own half, releasing Gooch on the left. He picked his cross well but O’Nien could only fire an effort over the bar from inside the box.
With Duncan Watmore on in place of Jordan Wilis, Sunderland were leaving gaps for the opposition and their falure to close down Andrew at corners almost cost them, his deflected strike dropping for Madden who forced another good stop from McLaughlin.
An open game began to swing from end to end, Gooch going close to replicating his stunning strike against Doncaster when he fired just wide of the far post on his left foot.
Fleetwood should have put the game to bed at the other end after a good counter, Madden firing over after being released inside the box.
The miss proved costly, Duncan Watmore brought down as he burst into the penalty box moments later. Maguire stepped up and fired an excellent penalty into the top corner.
Sunderland felt they should have had another penalty when O’Nien fell to the floor late on, but the referee waved play on as both sides were forced to settle for a point.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Willis (Watmore, 67), Ozturk, Lynch, Hume; Power, Dobson (McNulty, 77); Maguire, Gooch, Wyke
Subs: Burge, McLaughlin, Flanagan, Grigg, Leadbitter
Fleetwood Town XI: Cairns; Coyle, Souttar, Eastham, Andrew; Burns, Dempsey, Coutts (Biggins, 82), Morris (Sowerby, 45); Evans (Saunders, 80), Madden
Subs: Crellin, McAleny, Hill, Garner
Bookings: Ozturk, 64 Sowerby, 70 Dobson, 76 Cairns, 81