Max Power scores 97th minute Sunderland equaliser in dramatic draw with Joey Barton's Fleetwood Town
Barry McKay’s early strike looked like being enough for Fleetwood Town, who had frustrated the Black Cats with an excellent defensive display.
They looked set to take the points before Power’s intervention, getting the ball out from under his feet in the box and turning past Alex Cairns in the Fleetwood goal.
Both sides had come into the game in formidable form, knowing that with Coventry facing Rotherham, there was a huge opportunity to make a major stride in the race for the top-two spots.
The quality with which both were performing was underlined in the manager’s respective selections, neither making a single change either to their starting XI or their substitutes bench.
Sunderland have been exceptional on home turf since the turn of the year but from the off, it was Fleetwood Town who looked the more composed and threatening.
Barely a minute had been played when Jordan Willis was played into trouble, a high-risk pass fizzed into his feet with Fleetwood players swarming.
Willis sliced his attempted clearance, and the Black Cats were fortunate that Jon McLaughlin was alert to the danger, racing off his line to block Barrie McKay’s effort with his legs.
It was a major warning sign but one that Sunderland did not heed.
Minutes later Fleetwood again broke with pace, Paddy Madden opening up the Sunderland defence with a tremendous first touch. McKay had drifted infield and did well to turn away from Willis, and though McLaughlin again blocked his effort, this time he was unable to prevent it finding its way into the back of the net.
McKay, on loan from Swansea City, had been a player Sunderland monitored in the January window as they waited on Parkinson’s top target Antoine Semenyo.
The winger was tremendous in the opening exchanges, the Stadium of Light growing increasingly frustrated as the home side laboured in search of a response.
They finally began to settle into the game after a desperate opening quarter of an hour, Chris Maguire standing out and bringing his side into the game with some much-needed composure in possession.
He came inches away from landing an equaliser as the Black Cats built up play well on the right flank. Willis advanced and fired in a good cross, where Maguire played a one-two with Luke O’Nien. Maguire’s first-time effort crashed off the crossbar with Alex Cairns well beaten in the Fleetwood goal.
The rhythm of the game began to change, Barton’s side showing less ambition and sitting in deep to try and frustrate the home side.
They did that excellently well, Sunderland far better than they had been but struggling to forge any significant openings.
Much of their frontline was left frustrated and they carved out few chances, though Lynden Gooch should have done better shortly before the break when he delayed his shot just too long inside the box, dragging a shot wide with Hume and Maguire both hoping to receive a pass.
Parkinson resisted the urge to change things up at the break, but the opportunity to reset clearly benefited the visiting side.
They came out with an excellent defensive shape and an impressive industry out of possession. They were resolute and Sunderland were fortunate when the towering centee-half, Harry Souttar, could only head over the bar when rising to meet a corner at the back post.
Parkinson turned to Antoine Semenyo and Kyle Lafferty in search of inspiration, and though Sunderland were dominating both possession and territory, Fleetwood were keeping them at arm’s length, happy to take time out of the game and slow it down at every opportunity.
They registered the next meaningful effort after breaking swiftly from deep, Wes Burns driving into the box from the right and stinging McLaughlin’s palms with a firm effort.
Sunderland finished the game with all their attacking players on the pitch, Duncan Watmore trying to bring some energy into the side from the right flank.
Despite six minutes of stoppage time being played, Cairns remained largely untested, panicked only for a brief moment when an effort from Semenuo was deflected over his crossbar.
Fleetwood looked set to snatch it before Ozturk launched a ball forward from deep.
Lafferty won the header, and Power gathered in the box before turning the ball into the top corner.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Willis (Watmore, 85), Ozturk, Flanagan, Hume (Semenyo, 64); Power, Dobson (Lafferty, 75) ; Gooch, Maguire, Wyke
Subs: Burge, McLaughlin, Smith, Scowen
Fleetwood Town XI: Cairns; Coyle, Souttar, Gibson, Andrew; Connolly, Whelan, Coutts (Sowerby, 75); McKay (Morris, 75), Burns (Saunders, 84), Madden
Subs: Crellin, Thorvaldsson, Biggins, Holgate
Bookings: Power, 13 Ozturk, 52 Madden, 77 Coyle, 80
Attendance: 28, 255