Sunderland 1 Stoke City 0 match report: Adam Johnson revival lifts Sunderland out of relegation zone
Steven Nzonzi was dismissed for the Potters at the Stadium of Light
As the final whistle approached, with Sunderland about to pop their head out of the bottom three of the Premier League for the first time since August, the level of panic in the stadium was almost unbearable.
Sunderland’s extra man, following the sending off of Stoke’s Steven N’Zonzi, like the fact they were the home side, had long since been forgotten.
The Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross cracked a header off Vito Mannone’s crossbar and the Sunderland defender Wes Brown almost sliced into his own goal. Each moment drew new gasps.
There are 15 more of these potential nailbiters still to come. And a Capital One Cup final. And a derby on Saturday against fierce rivals Newcastle United, not to mention the fifth round of the FA Cup. Somehow Gus Poyet has made Sunderland’s season enthralling.
Perhaps it has been the realisation that the World Cup looks likely to pass him by, but Adam Johnson’s resurgence has also been dramatic. He had been involved in Sunderland’s last six goals (either as creator or scorer) before his clever finish here after 17 minutes took that tally to seven.
Fabio Borini’s shot was only parried by Asmir Begovic to his left and in that failure came opportunity. Johnson chased the clearance and with the most deft of touches with his left foot, nudged the ball out of the reach of the Stoke goalkeeper.
Now, from a tight angle, he had to steer the ball past Begovic and, again, he did that with precision. It was Johnson’s sixth goal in his last six games, his eighth for the season. They are statistics most English wingers would be fairly pleased with.
Steven N'Zoni of Stoke City is sent off by referee Robert Madley It was certainly a subtlety of play that Mark Hughes’ side could have done with in front of goal in the opening half.
Shawcross, the usually dependable Stoke captain, was most culpable. In the 39th minute Charlie Adam, who was booked for simulation a minute later, produced a fine, left-footed cross deep into the heart of the Sunderland penalty area. Shawcross looked nailed on to score, but his effort was too near to the Sunderland keeper Mannone, who saved well, to the frustration of Hughes.
There had been more opportunities to cancel out Johnson’s strike. Adam had shot narrowly wide, and in the 32nd minute Peter Crouch had almost capitalised when a Geoff Cameron cross bisected Mannone and John O’Shea. Crouch’s initial attempted finish was clever and it drew an excellent save from the Italian. The rebound was more comfortably collected.
Stoke’s evening took a major turn for the worse in the 53rd minute when N’Zonzi, who had already been booked for a foul in the first half, ended up on the wrong side of Jozy Altidore, with the striker heading for goal, outside the visitors’ penalty area.
Given the American’s lousy form in English football, the midfielder would have been advised to let the Sunderland man go, but in his efforts to get near the striker, Altidore fell under the smallest (if any) contact. The referee produced a second yellow and N’Zonzi became the third Stoke player to be sent off in the North-east this season.
Altidore, with just a solitary Premier League goal to his name since his £6m move to the Stadium of Light in the summer, had the chance to secure victory moments later after being played through by Borini. However, Begovic saved his close-range shot.
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