SUNDERLAND displayed commendable spirit as they twice came from behind to claim a 2-2 draw with West Ham, but the result still leaves David Moyes’ side nine points adrift of safety with six games remaining.
Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini at least brought the Black Cats’ lengthy goalless run to an end, but it was almost certainly a case of too little, too late as the hosts finally rediscovered some fight.
What were the main talking points from the Stadium of Light?
KHAZRI PROVES HIS POINT
Wahbi Khazri has been Sunderland’s forgotten man this season, with David Moyes clearly not valuing the Tunisian’s qualities. Today’s appearance was Khazri’s first start since October, and he was clearly determined to make a positive impression.
There was a large slice of luck to the winger’s opening goal, as he curled the ball straight into the net from a corner. However, it was fortune that was deserved given the quality of his all-round play.
Khazri chased every ball, harrying and harassing his opponents and refusing to give up on anything. He was involved in all of Sunderland’s best attacking moves, and looked to have set up Didier Ndong for a goal midway through the second half, only for the midfielder to blaze over.
Khazri was an integral part of last season’s successful survival bid under Sam Allardyce, and while another ‘Great Escape’ remains extremely unlikely, the winger will surely remain in the side for the six matches still to come.
FAN DISCONTENT IS CONTAINED
Khazri’s goal not only ended a wait of more than 700 minutes for a Sunderland goal – it also prevented David Moyes from being subjected to sustained abuse from the stands.
In the ten minutes or so before Khazri’s goal, Moyes was booed every time he got off the bench to walk to his technical area, with chants of “We want Moyes out” clearly audible from the South Stand.
It was the first time Moyes had been subjected to such chanting at his home stadium, and the mood could have turned much more mutinous had Khazri not changed the narrative with his goal.
Had Borini not equalised, there might well have been more booing at the final whistle, and while Moyes’ position is not in immediate danger with Ellis Short continuing to stand by his boss, it will be interesting to see how he is treated in Sunderland’s remaining two home games.
BORINI’S FRUSTRATION BOILS OVER
Borini has clearly been frustrated at his recent spell on the substitutes’ bench, and his emotions were clear as he celebrated his dramatic late equaliser.
Having sprinted to a position in front of the dug-outs, the Italian slid to his knees to celebrate raucously in front of Moyes, who had questioned his contribution in recent games.
Were his actions justified? No one wants to be left out of the team, and Borini can rightly point to his efforts at the end of last season to suggest he represents one of Sunderland’s best chances of turning things around in the current campaign.
However, unlike Khazri, who has barely had a kick this season, Borini has had plenty of chances to prove himself this term, and has regularly been found wanting. If the Italian hadn’t played so poorly in a number of matches, he wouldn’t have found himself on the bench.
TIME IS RUNNING OUT
This was an improvement on a number of Sunderland’s recent games, but the result has done little to improve the bigger picture at the foot of the table.
Hull and Swansea might both have lost, but the Black Cats remain nine points adrift of safety with just six games to play.
That is a huge gap to make up, particularly as Sunderland have still only won once since the middle of December. That was the 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, but that game still looks like an aberration rather than a turning point.
Sunderland don’t play next weekend because of Arsenal’s involvement in the FA Cup, so with Swansea and Hull both having home games in seven days’ time, the Black Cats could be in an even worse position by the time they return to action at Middlesbrough a week on Wednesday.
Sunderland manager David Moyes said: "I thought we played well. We tried to get after them right away but unfortunately we conceded early, which was poor.
"I was disappointed with both goals but not with the play. We passed it better and had bits of control at times – not all the time – and that led to some better football.
"I did hear them (the boos), aye. It's to be expected because me and the team are not doing well. I have to accept it. I just remember to myself that I've got the third or fourth best win record in the Premier League.
"The support have been fantastic and when a manger's not doing well, a team's not doing well they deserve to take their frustrations out on somebody.”
"I thought Wahbi played in a role which kept him more disciplined and I thought he kept the ball well for us and scored a really good goal from a corner kick. I was pleased with him, good."
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said: “You have to be disappointed when you're leading twice in the game and then concede a late equaliser like we did even though Sunderland were throwing on forwards everywhere.
“We had momentum after each goal but we couldn't finish them off or punish them which is disappointing. I'm not happy with the way we conceded either goal.
“We score goals as a team and we concede goals as a team, we win or draw or lose as a team so I'm not going to point the finger at one player. That's it. It's a long time since you've seen the kind of goal they scored for their first direct from a corner. Was it a foul? In England, no.”
Sunderland (4-3-3): Pickford; Jones (Borini 87), Denayer, O’Shea, Manquillo (Kone 89); Gibson, Cattermole (Januzaj 76), Ndong; Khazri, Defoe, Anichebe.
Subs (not used): Mannone (gk), Djilobodji, Pienaar, Rodwell.
West Ham (4-2-3-1): Randolph; Byram, Collins, Fonte, Masuaku; Kouyate, Fernandes; Snodgrass (Nordtveit 81), Ayew (Calleri 90), Lanzini; Carroll.
Subs (not used): Adrian (gk), Cresswell, Feghouli, Fletcher, Rice.