AS THE KC Stadium emptied, Gus Poyet emerged from the tunnel to applaud the 2,500 travelling supporters.
After wandering down from the directors box where he had watched the second half, Poyet received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the away end. Oh, how relieving it must have been for him to hear them chanting his name.
It’s been a harrowing and frustrating 48 hours for the Sunderland boss.
Being sent to the stands for lashing out at a water bottle carrier, before being involved in an ugly spat with Steve Bruce, simply compounded it.
The legal system will go through its due process in the investigations over Adam Johnson, yet the timing of his arrest was hardly great for Sunderland, on the eve of a HUGE encounter at the KC Stadium.
Losing the services of Sunderland’s most creative player was a blow to Poyet. Did it play a part in the Uruguayan booting the refreshments when Jack Rodwell’s appeals for a foul on the edge of the area rightly saw the midfielder issued a yellow card for diving? Probably.
It may have been breathless, violent, ugly, unconvincing and devoid of quality, but Sunderland came away with something for their efforts.Chris Young, Sunderland reporter
Yet the manner of the utter dross served up by Sunderland in the opening 45 minutes against Steve Bruce’s men was surely a bigger source of frustration for the Uruguayan.
For the first half, Sunderland were clueless and a rag-tag bunch, with no discernible game-plan or clear idea of playing.
Poyet had gambled on a side which was packed with battlers, yet lacked any sense of width.
It was no surprise that Sunderland struggled with such eye-catching awfulness.
But ultimately, the Black Cats came away with a point; a big, big, point.
Forget how unconvincing Sunderland were for large portions of the game. You can even forget those pre-match hopes of a victory at Hull creating some clear daylight with the drop zone.
Sunderland could not afford to be beaten and they weren’t.
Ironically, Sunderland started the encounter brightly. The problem was it didn’t last longer than the first three minutes.
What followed was a car-crash of a performance, both on the pitch and on the touchline.
The goal Sunderland conceded was bad enough. A set piece routine of smash the ball low into the box and hope someone gets a touch to divert it into the net.
But the response... Well, it was powder-puff, and that was to put it kindly.
Under Hull’s pressing, Sunderland rotated the ploys of going sideways, backwards or cheaply surrendering possession.
There was no clear idea of how the system worked. Midfielders got in each other’s way or in the case of Liam Bridcutt.
Most importantly, there was no width. Why play Danny Graham and Jermain Defoe – two players who thrive on crosses – if there’s no-one to deliver the ball into the box?
In fact, Graham was the only player who delivered a decent first half cross; the ex-Hull loanee producing a couple of excellent low pull-backs that had no-one attacking them.
By contrast, Hull wing-back Andy Robertson had acres down the left and made the most of being given a constant running start on Santiago Vergini by stretching the Sunderland defence and delivering a couple of crosses that the visitors only just managed to clear.
It all got too much for Poyet on the stroke of half-time when he lashed out.
Crucially though, Hull didn’t get a killer second goal.
Dame N’Doye dinked the ball beyond Costel Pantilimon in the early stages of the second half, before John O’Shea came to the rescue, but that was about it.
And as Hull attempted to sit back and settle for what they had, Sunderland pushed forward.
However, other than a O’Shea header from a corner and a long-ranger from Jack Rodwell, Sunderland still didn’t look a threat.
It was the substitutions that changed the pattern of the game.
Ricky Alvarez was excellent, finally giving Sunderland a hint of creativity and the ability to commit defenders.
Sunderland will need the on-loan Argentine international to step up to the plate now, with Johnson absent and Emanuele Giaccherini ruled out until the summer.
When Patrick van Aanholt came off the bench too, Sunderland finally had their natural shape back, and a hint of width.
It was a beauty of a cross for the equaliser, which Rodwell made sure about by heading home from a yard out.
And the duo almost combined for a winner when van Aanholt whipped another superb ball in that Rodwell met flush on the volley and sent just over the top.
It’s all well and good for Poyet to use Vergini at full-back to offer some extra height, yet van Aanholt is one of the few Sunderland players who can stretch an opposition defence. Despite his defensive shortcomings, the Dutchman needs to be included.
In between Rodwell’s goal and his near-miss for a winner, Sunderland required a stunning save from Costel Pantilimon to keep them level.
The Romanian showed wonderful reflexes to block N’Doye’s header from point-blank range after Ahmed Elmohamady had skipped to the right-hand by-line.
A draw temporarily moves Sunderland four points clear of the drop zone, albeit that gap could be significantly reduced with QPR and Burnley both in action tonight.
But crucially, Sunderland didn’t lose. It may have been breathless, violent, ugly, unconvincing and devoid of quality, but Sunderland came away with something for their efforts.
The battlers battled their way to what could be a big result.
HULL: McGregor 6, Bruce 7, Dawson 7, McShane 7, Elmohamady 7, Robertson 8, Meyler 7, Huddlestone 6, Livermore 6, N’Doye 7, Jelavic 7 (Hernandez 73 6). Subs not used: Harper, Figueroa, Davies, Aluko, Ramirez, Quinn.
Booked: McShane (41). Goal: N’Doye 15
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon 7, Bridcutt 4, Brown 6, Cattermole 5 (Alvarez 62 7), Larsson 5, Rodwell 6, Reveillere 5, O’Shea 6, Graham 6 (Wickham 73 6), Vergini 4 (van Aanholt 73 7), Defoe 6. Subs not used: Mannone, Fletcher, Gomez, Coates.
Booked: Brown (13), Rodwell (36), Bridcutt (46), Cattermole (60), Larsson (79), Alvarez (87). Goal: Rodwell 77
Man of the Match: Alvarez – Helped to change the game. Hull suddenly had someone to worry about, who was capable of creating something.
Referee: Mike Dean