Sunderland show fight and spirit in Leeds United draw but it looks too little, too late

McNair celebrates his opening goal
McNair celebrates his opening goal
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There could no faulting the performance or endeavour of Sunderland here.

They left everything on the Elland Road turf, created more than enough chances to win the game and played their part in a pulsating contest.

Had they played like this more often this season we would not be talking about a side seemingly destined for the drop to League One.

Heading for relegation they are nevertheless, a point not enough to make much of a dent in the now significant gap.

This has been a definite improvement but it looks to be too little, too late.

That Sunderland were applauded off by their away support at half-time told the story of an opening period in which the team’s recent improvements continued.

Chris Coleman had resisted the temptation to tinker with his formation despite the absence of Bryan Oviedo through injury, Marc Wilson standing in at left-back.

While the Black Cats put together some promising patches of play, it was the hosts who created the two best opportunities.

Talented attacking midfielder Samuel Saiz span away from Lee Cattermole on fifteen minute mark, sliding on Pablo Hernandez on the left. His cross was fierce but just out the reach of his onrushing team-mates. Minutes later, Ronaldo Vieira fired at Lee Camp’s near post, kept out by a combination of the woodwork and the goalkeeper’s left hand.

Camp did superbly to deny Hernandez soon after, the Spaniard combining delightfully with Saiz before connecting with a close-range volley that the Sunderland keeper just turned past the post.

The visitors did show a threat of their own, Lynden Gooch crossing to the back post where Aiden McGeady’s header was easily saved.

The pair were a constant threat, McGeady’s corner 42 minutes in turned onto the bar by Ashley Fletcher.

They were on top for much of the second half’s latter stages, but were fortunate that Ezgjan Alioski was inches away from meeting a superb Stuart Dallas cross just seconds from the interval.

Having survived that scare, Sunderland picked up where they left off much of the first half, taking the lead within three minutes of the second period. Lynden Gooch advanced down the right, checking inside and passing to Donald Love. The right-back played a superb chip over the top of the defence, where Paddy McNair connected with an emphatic half-volley, rifling the ball into the roof of the net.

Leeds responded with a spell of pressure, and Marc Wilson was immensely fortunate that when he gave the ball away near his own box, Alioski fired wildly over with the goal gaping.

The Black Cats responded with a fine move of their own, Gooch, as he so often was, the catalyst as he drove down the left. His cross was met by Honeyman, denied only by the boot of goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. McGeady ran onto the loose ball but the sliding Pontus Jansson kept out his effort.

It turned out to be a pivotal moment, Hernandez isolating Love at the far post within minutes. His finish was superb, curling it into the far corner.

Sunderland's response was superb, and they were unlucky not be ahead as the game entered the closing stages.

Fletcher attacked a McGeady corner to be denied only be a stunning Peackock-Farrell save, and McNair missed the chance to score a second soon after when he fired straight at the Leeds youngster.

By now the game was swinging from end to end, Sunderland searching for a winner and leaving gaps accordingly.

Alioski ought to have scored when Leeds created a three-on-one opening, but Camp did well to save.

Leeds were finishing strongly and Alioski stuck the bar with a rasping free-kick as stoppage time approached.

Sunderland's momentum had been checked but they were granted a lifeline when Domenico Berardi saw red, a shocking challenge on Callum McManaman close to the touchline. McManaman then forced another superb stop from Peacock-Farrell as he fired from the edge of the area.

That was the last significant action of a breathless encounter, one in which Sunderland threatened to land a superb result but fell heartbreakingly short.

Sunderland XI: Camp; Love, Kone, O’Shea, Wilson, McGeady (McManaman, 89), Cattermole (LuaLua, 90), McNair, Honeyman (Ejaria, 83), Gooch, Fletcher

Subs: Asoro, Steele, Matthews, Clarke-Slater

Leeds United XI: Peacock-Farrell, Berardi, Jansson, O’Connor, Dallas; Vieira, Phillips (Roofe 64); Saiz, Hernandez, Alioski; Lasogga (Ekuban, 79)

Subs: Lonergan, Anite, Pearce, Nicell, Grot

Bookings: Honeyman, 11 Kone, 70 O’Connor, 75 Alioski, 83 McManaman, 90 Jansson, 90

Red Card: Berardi, 89

Attendance: 30,461