Jones finds a way back as Sunderland battle nerves

Sunderland 1 Wigan Athletic 1
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The Independent Online

Sunderland will draw some credit from a second-half fightback that at least earned a point, but they will equally be aware that after a run without a win that now stretches to 11 games, a draw against a side in a similar rut is not enough to keep the threat of relegation at bay.

No team knows better than Sunderland just how debilitating these runs can be. Twice in the past decade they have set record lows for points recorded in a Premier League season, and they won only three of their last 20 games in 2001-02, surviving by a fraction. The memory of those slumps is an unresolved trauma haunting the psyche of the club, lurking always just below the surface.

"They've got to be able to handle the nerves and the edginess better than they are at the moment," said Steve Bruce. "We're in a group of 10 teams all looking over our shoulders."

When Niall Quinn took over as the chairman four seasons ago, he spoke of "ridding the club of its gremlins", and banishing them was perhaps Roy Keane's greatest achievement. It turns out, though, that their exile was merely temporary. They are back again with a vengeance. This was a dismal performance, hurried, littered with errors and lacking in imagination; that the game held the attention was only because Wigan were just as bad. The only flickers of quality came from the two right wingers – Jordan Henderson for Sunderland and, more consistently, Charles N'Zogbia for Wigan.

"Take us to the promised land," urged the one banner in the Wigan end. It was presumably aimed at their new signing for Crystal Palace, Victor Moses, who came on as a late substitute, but the sad truth is that for club's of Wigan's stature – perhaps even Sunderland's – this is the promised land. Perhaps not specifically raw, foggy afternoons on Wearside, but certainly similarly uninspired relegation struggles.

When they took the lead on 20 minutes, Wigan perhaps saw an end to their own miserable run, which now stands at one win in nine games. Mohamed Diame's strike, crashed into the roof of the net from a position well to the right of goal, was pure – "I haven't seem him strike the ball like that before," Roberto Martinez admitted – but it was facilitated by Sunderland's sloppiness. First Lorik Cana allowed himself to be dispossessed by Diame, then Matthew Kilgallon made only a half challenge as the French midfielder burst past him just outside the box.

At that stage, Sunderland, neutered by the tailing off of Andy Reid's form – which, worryingly, extends even to his dead balls – had offered next to nothing. "The attributes we showed as a team defensively is what pleased me most," Martinez said, but they were helped in that by Sunderland's inadequacies.

Kenwyne Jones, never as fearsome as his physique suggests he should be, spent much of the first half performing his usual default of getting nudged in the back and looking at the referee in sad-eyed disappointment. When something in his languid personality finally snapped on the half-hour, though, he barrelled through a handful of challenges and his deflected shot slapped an upright.

It would be an exaggeration to say he was inspired from then on, but he was certainly much improved, and it was his fine header from Henderson's cross after Sunderland's best move of the game that levelled 19 minutes into the second half. A couple of minutes earlier, Michael Turner had headed badly wide from a similar delivery, and it seemed a head of steam was building. In Sunderland's next attack, though, Henderson fell awkwardly after challenging Titus Bramble, and as he received lengthy treatment for what appeared a serious ankle injury, Sunderland's momentum disappeared.

Referee: Stuart Attwell

Attendance: 38,350

Man of the match: N'Zogbia

Match rating: 5/10

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