Sunderland denied as Babb error saves Bolton

Bolton Wanderers 1 Sunderland 1
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The Independent Online

Two goals made possible by defensive errors summed up the standard of play as the balance of power between two clubs struggling at the bottom of the Premiership remained largely unchanged.

Two goals made possible by defensive errors summed up the standard of play as the balance of power between two clubs struggling at the bottom of the Premiership remained largely unchanged.

Ivan Campo and Phil Babb were the guilty men and without their intervention there is no guarantee that, for all their efforts, either side would have scored unassisted if they had played until this morning.

A game which had started brightly enough had deteriorated into something befitting the bottom two in the division long before Sunderland took the lead. That goal, in first-half injury time, was a reward for their resilience.

That time had been added on because Claudio Reyna had been carried off with knee ligament damage ­ the second Black Cat, after the goalkeeper, Thomas Myhre, to go off injured ­ but Sunderland kept their shape well to capitalise on Campo's error.

It was a long kick up field that paved the way, with two team-mates having the chance to clear before the Spaniard put a weak header into the path of the Sunderland captain.

Gray's left-foot shot was beautifully struck and it curled past Jassi Jaaskelainen to sneak just inside the goalkeeper's right-hand post, going a long way to justifying Howard Wilkinson's decision to switch Gray to midfield for the occasion.

"You have to give Michael Gray some credit for the quality of the shot," said the Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce. "It was a fantastic strike and there was very little we could have done about it." Apart from not presenting him with the chance in the first place, of course.

It was galling for Wanderers to finish the first half that way, because they had undeniably enjoyed the bulk of it territorially.

Youri Djorkaeff had almost carved out an early chance for Michael Ricketts and had put an effort wide himself, but the game gradually became bereft of precision or polish.

Bolton were more urgent after the break and Campo looked like making up for his blunder with a header that bounced past the post, but Bolton eventually needed outside help for their equaliser.

Sunderland, and Kevin Kilbane in particular, made heavy weather of trying to clear Gareth Farrelly's throw, but Mike Whitlow's header in the general direction of goal was harmless enough until Babb made just sufficient contact to deflect it past the substitute keeper Jürgen Macho.

For Allardyce, it was a stroke of luck that was as deserved as it was needed. "I know it wasn't very clever at times, but our pressure paid off with that own goal," he said.

For Wilkinson, there was evidence of a change of mood in the Sunderland camp. "They've started to believe that they can affect their future," he said.

Bolton Wanderers (3-5-2): Jaaskelainen 5; N'Gotty 5, Campo 3, Whitlow 5; Mendy 4 (Barness 4, 69), Nolan 4 (Okocha 4, 57), Frandsen 4, Farrelly 5, Gardner 4; Djorkaeff 6, Ricketts 4. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Pedersen, Dean Holdsworth.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Myhre 5 (Macho 5, 26); Wright 6, Craddock 5, Babb 4, McCartney 5; Kilbane 4, Reyna 6 (Thirlwell 5, 38), McCann 5, Gray 6; Bellion 6, Phillips 5 (Flo, 76). Substitutes not used: Bjorklund, Piper.

Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn) 5.

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