Football: Johnston steals point for Sunderland

Sunderland 1 Birmingham City 1
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The giant Davy Lamp outside Sunderland's new ground failed to light up for its ceremonial unveiling last night. It must have been an omen. The sparkling football with which Sunderland have illuminated their Stadium of Light this season was conspicuously absent as Peter Reid's team missed their chance to go top of the First Division.

They were not quite the pits, however. A late rally salvaged a point from a cause that could have been lost long before Allan Johnston swept in an injury-time equaliser.

Birmingham played with the greater composure from the fifth minute, when Daniele Dichio squandered a clear chance for Sunderland, until Reid's men started to expose a few raw nerves as the final whistle approached. Thirty seconds into injury time Darren Williams hoisted a long ball forward, Niall Quinn headed on and Johnston, as Reid put it, "got us out of gaol''.

For the second time in four days, Trevor Francis departed with the look of a man condemned. He was certainly speechless, opting to give the press room a wide berth on his way past the hospitality suites to the team bus.

It might have been different for both managers if Reid had chosen to start with Quinn, whose hat-trick against Stockport last Saturday cost the Stadium of Light's resident turf accountants pounds 25,000. Those students of form who backed the Irishman's replacement as first scorer last night ought to have enjoyed an early return on their 5-1 investment but Dichio, unmarked on the penalty spot, showed all the rust of a player who has been bench-bound for most of the season as he missed his kick completely.

It proved to be Sunderland's one opportunity in a half controlled by their opponents. Driven by the dynamic Martin O'Connor in midfield, Birmingham could have been two goals to the good by the break. To the audible relief of the concerned natives, Steve Bruce headed wide and Peter Ndlovu shot into the side-netting.

Their respite, however, was merely temporary. Five minutes into the second half Ndlovu sliced through the right flank of the Sunderland defence, cut the ball back from the byline and Adebola hooked a left-foot shot high into the home net.

Two minutes later Lionel Perez pushed over a goal-bound drive by Martin Grainger. It proved to be a point-saving stop by the Frenchman as Sunderland snatched their chance to pinch a draw they did not deserve.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Perez; Holloway (Summerbee, 64), Craddock, Williams, Gray; Rae, Clark, Ball, Johnston; Phillips, Dichio (Quinn, 53). Substitute not used: Makin.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Bass, Bruce, Johnson, Charlton; McCarthy, O'Connor, Marsden, Grainger; Ndlovu (Hughes, 81), Adebola. Substitutes not used: Forster, Ablett.

Referee: K Lynch (Knaresborough).