Sunderland 2 Stoke 0: Cats out of bottom three for first time this season

Duncan Watmore
Duncan Watmore

For three-and-half months, Sunderland have endured a sorry existence inside the Premier League drop zone, but suddenly there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Maiden back-to-back victories of the season moved Sunderland out of the bottom three for the first time, in what could be a HUGE week in the context of the battle to stay in the top flight.

Sunderland were unquestionably aided by the dismissal of Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross early in the second half after the opening 45 minutes had been predictably cagey, with just one real chance apiece.

Yet they still faced an uphill battle to break down a Stoke defence, which had kept clean sheets in six of their previous seven games.

But Sam Allardyce chance his arm with his attack-minded substitutions and they eventually paid off with two big goals in the final 10 minutes - for the second successive game, Sunderland coming away with the points late in the day.

Patrick van Aanholt's first Premier League goal was a beauty as he swept Adam Johnson's short free-kick into the bottom corner, before substitue Duncan Watmore - who had worried the Potters defence throughout - sealed the points moments later.

Allardyce had stuck with the 3-5-2 system which had succeeded at Crystal Palace earlier in the week, with just one enforced change to the starting XI - DeAndre Yedlin taking the place of the suspended Billy Jones.

After a perhaps predictably cagey start, Sunderland had the first meaningful effort in the 18th minute when Seb Larsson and Jermain Defoe did well to create a yard for the latter on the edge of the box.

Defoe hit a right-foot shot across goal, which drifted just wide of the far post.

It proved to be Defoe's only meaningful contribution after he was forced off on the half-hour, when he failed to shake off what appeared to be a thigh injury sustained when he over-ran the ball. Watmore took the place of the England international.

The Stadium of Light broke into spontaneous applause in the 32nd minute to mark the passing of ex-Sunderland keeper Marton Fulop and fittingly at that split-second, one of his successors produced a stunning stop.

Erik Pieters delivered a superb low cross from the left which was met at point-blank range by Jonathan Walters, only for Costel Pantilimon to block with his body.

Stoke were reduced to 10 men within two minutes of the restart after captain Ryan Shawcross - booked just before the break - was given a second yellow card for bringing down Watmore, although replays were inconclusive over whether the Potters man had got a sliver of the ball.

With a man advantage, Jeremain Lens was quickly introduced and his square ball immediately picked out Yann M'Vila's shot, whose effort from the right of goal was beaten away by Jack Butland.

The Stoke keeper then produced a superb tip over the bar to keep out Sebastian Coates' header from Lens' right-wing cross.

Sunderland finally made their man advantage count in the 82nd minute after substitute Adam Johnson was brought down on the edge of the area, to the right of goal.

Johnson disguised the free-kick, laying it off short to van Aanholt, who swept it low into the bottom corner beyond Butland.

Moments later, Sunderland sealed the points after Watmore latched onto Yedlin's throw-in, raced in behind the Stoke defence and swept the ball linto the far corner.

Sunderland: Pantilimon, Coates, O'Shea, Kaboul, Yedlin, van Aanholt, Cattermole, M'Vila, Larsson (Lens 54), Defoe (Watmore 31), Fletcher. Subs not used: Mannone, Borini, Johnson, Matthews, Toivonen.

Stoke: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Adam (Afellay 85), Bojan (Cameron 50), Arnautovic, Shaqiri (Diouf 64), Walters. Subs not used: Haugaard, Wilson, van Ginkel, Crouch. Booked: Adam (33), Shawcross (42), Pieters (81). Sent off: Shawcross (47)

Attendance: 41,516