Sunderland 2 Fulham 2 match report: Simon Mignolet makes Dimitar Berbatov pay penalty
Twenty minutes of this game remained when Dimitar Berbatov steadied himself for victory. Fulham led 2-1, Berbatov was 10 yards from the Sunderland goal as a return pass from Bryan Ruiz came into his path.
Everything that had happened previously screamed decisive goal. But perhaps, in the scoring of the opening penalty, one which humiliated Simon Mignolet with its craft, came the motivation for such a vital save.
For the penalty in the 16th minute Berbatov varied his run-up, controlling the situation without the ball and leaving Mignolet unable to move as he stumbled backwards, before calmly stroking the ball into the bottom corner.
Perhaps that thought was still alive as Berbatov, with memories of his strike against Stoke and the control he showed then still fresh in the memory, readied to well-nigh end any relegation worries for Fulham. His shot was goalbound but Mignolet's save, with his leg, was excellent, and in the move that followed came its true value.
From the stop Stéphane Sessègnon broke and passed to Adam Johnson on his left. Johnson's cross was half cut-out by Philippe Senderos, but only into the path of Sessègnon, who cracked a shot into the bottom corner, the same one in which Berbatov had scored.
"It's a very important save in the course of the game," said Sunderland's manager, Martin O'Neill. "Fulham could go 3-1 up and it's a long way back. Within 20 seconds we've scored to make it 2-2. It was a big moment. [Sessègnon] has come up with big moments for us this season. It was terrific."
It capped a decent fightback. Berbatov's penalty, for a foul by Craig Gardner on the outstanding Ashkan Dejagah, was followed in the 34th minute by a goal for the right-back Sascha Riether. That it came from a Sunderland corner, headed clear by Berbatov, did little to help O'Neill's mood. But a penalty they themselves earned two minutes later, when Senderos fouled Danny Graham, that was smashed past Mark Schwarzer by Gardner, changed the feel of the game. Sunderland had a foothold, until Berbatov's chance.
"He was clear through, you expect something to happen," said Martin Jol. "It was disappointing. We should have punished them."
There were two further penalty shouts for the home side after their equaliser. They weren't given.
"It was a clear-cut penalty from Senderos handling the ball and the referee decided not to give it," added O'Neill. "You can't just give it and choose to ignore it when you want. I thought we could and should have won the game."
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