Preston 2 Sunderland 2: Dubious refereeing decisions as spirit restored

Aiden McGeady celebrates his equaliser
Aiden McGeady celebrates his equaliser

Sunderland secured a hard-fought point at Deepdale that does little to alleviate their immediate woes in terms of the table, but will offer much consolation for beleaguered boss Simon Grayson.

Their first half lead was turned on its head in three second minutes as Preston looked to have delivered to another galling blow, but a fine finish from Aiden McGeady was the least Sunderland deserved.

The Black Cats looked the more likely to win as Duncan Watmore made an encouraging return to action, but the crucial goal was just out of their reach amid a number of dubious refereeing decisions.

Though the opening exchanges of the game saw a lack of quality on the ball from both sides, Sunderland looked far more comfortable defensively in a 4-4-2 formation, with John O'Shea and Tyias Browning composed in front of Jason Steele.

Preston did have the first notable move of the contest, Tom Barkhuizen bursting past Adam Matthews on the inside and moving the ball to Alan Browne. The Irish midfielder's shot was blocked with the hosts pleading for a handball, quickly dismissed by referee Chris Kavanagh.

The Black Cats began to threaten with George Honeyman and Lynden Gooch getting shots away from the edge of the area, and much to the delight of the superb 3,000 strong travelling support, the young duo combined to put their side 1-0 up just before the half hour mark.

A free-kick from just inside the Preston half was floated forward, James Vaughan doing superbly to flick-on. With his back to goal, Gooch played an excellent reverse pass to relese Honeyman, whose finish was emphatic.

Sunderland's organisation off the ball was much improved from the Portman Road debacle, with Didier Ndong and Lee Cattermole both impressing.

They could have had a second before the break, with McGeady doing well to dig the ball out on the edge of the area and just firing wide on his left foot.

Sunderland continued to press at the start of the second half, but were given a major reprieve when Jordan Hugill ran clear of the defence. Barkhuizen was waiting for the tap-in at the far post but the pass was too strong and the danger passed.

A game that had been played at a sedate pace for the most part then caught fire, the scoreline 2-2 after five dizzying minutes.

There was a touch of fortune about Preston's equaliser, a free-kick out wide from Josh Harrop curling right across the defence and into the far corner. Steele in the Sunderland goal looked to have been unsighted by Vaughan, who made a last ditch effort to head the ball away.

There was nothing lucky about the second, a stunning first time strike from Hugill as the ball broke to him on the edge of the area, Steele absolutely helpless as the ball bounced in off the bar.

That turnaround lasted less than two minutes. With both sides losing control of a game that had become end-to-end, the ball broke through the heart of Preston's midfield. McGeady, riled after being booed by the home support in the opening half, won a full-blooded challenge on the edge of the box, rising to his feet to curl home.

He responded by running back into the Preston half to celebrate in full view of the home support.

The scores may have been level again, but that did not signal a quieter spell.

Alan Browne rocked the crossbar from the edge of the area, before Watmore, back in action for the first time, broke behind the host's defence. He showed he had last none of his speed during his long lay-off as he beat goalkeeper Chris Maxwell to the ball, who appeared to use his arm to put it out of play.

The referee gave a throw-in, much to the disgust of the away side.

The Black Cats pushed hard for a winner, just unable to find the final ball.

Watmore did excellently to steal the ball on the byline, his cut-back for Cattermole just cut out by the covering Harrop. The young striker then found himself in the box after an excellent interception from Cattermole, but the cross from the 29-year-old was too strong and cut out by Maxwell.

The away side were roundly applauded by the support on the final whistle, with much still to be concerned about but some much needed spirit restored.