Downing stays cool to maintain progress

The Sunderland striker Tommy Smith saluted teenager Stewart Downing after he kept his cool to snatch a precious First Division point at home to Wigan on Tuesday.

The 19-year-old midfielder, on loan at the Stadium of Light from neighbours Middlesbrough, stepped up calmly to convert the 82nd-minute penalty that Smith had won when he was tripped by the defender Ian Breckin to ensure the game finished 1-1.

"If I'd been on a bit longer I might have fancied the penalty, but Stew fancied it," said Smith, who had replaced the defender Darren Williams as the manager, Mick McCarthy, desperately searched for a way back into the game. "He's a confident lad and he'd run his guts out all night for us, so no one had any complaints when he stepped up," Smith added.

Smith, who joined the Black Cats from Watford earlier this season, was thrown into the fray as Sunderland attempted to cancel the lead Jason De Vos' 69th-minute strike had given the visitors.

"The gaffer said to go up top and try to get in behind them," he said. "That's what I like, so it worked out quite well.

"It's tough coming on at that stage, especially in those circumstances, but we worked really hard and I thought we were good value for a point."

The draw left the Wearsiders lying sixth in the First Division table, five points off an automatic promotion place, but without a win in four games and having failed to take three points at home since 18 October.

But they have lost just two of their last 13 and conceded only nine goals in the process, and that, coupled with the resilience they showed to fight back after having Julio Arca dismissed before half-time, has given cause for optimism.

"The spirit in this side is amazing," Smith told the club's official website, www.safc.com. "How many times have we scored late goals this season? The team spirit we have here is second to none.

"We are disappointed that we didn't win the game, but we could easily have lost it with the way the game went. We wanted three points to climb the table, but it just wasn't to be."

The Sunderland chairman, Bryan Sanderson, admitted that the former manager Peter Reid should have been dismissed long before he was sacked in October 2002.

Reid led the club to consecutive seventh place finishes in the Premiership, but the Black Cats finished 17th the following year and were relegated in 2003.

Reid's unsuccessful spending in the transfer market also contributed to significant debts but the vice-chairman, John Fickling, told Tuesday's AGM that the club was in a healthier position following the sale of players during the summer.

"Virtually all clubs are in a position where they have to consider offers made for players but we no longer have the urgent financial need to sell that we had in the summer," Fickling said.

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