Sunderland 2-2 Fulham
AN improved second-half showing helped Sunderland overcome a two-goal deficit to take a point against Fulham this afternoon.
Dimitar Berbatov put the visitors ahead after 16 minutes with a controversial penalty before Sascha Riether doubled the lead.
Craig Gardner converted a penalty of his own eight minutes before half-time before Stephane Sessegnon grabbed the Black Cats a share of the spoils with 20 minutes left.
Both sides named unchanged starting line-ups from the previous weekend, Martin O'Neill left with six substitutes on the Black Cats bench due to injuries.
Sunderland set their stall out immediately, captain John O'Shea heading into the side netting from a corner inside the first minute.
However Fulham were nothing if not efficient, taking the lead with their first opportunity of the game.
A tackle from Craig Gardner on Ashkan Dejagah was eventually deemed a penalty after referee Mark Halsey initially declined to award the spot kick.
Berbatov stepped up to dispatch from 12 yards with arrogance to spare, sneaking the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Sunderland eventually began to click jnto gear, Stephane Sessegnon - the outstanding Sunderland player of the first half- bursting down the right before crossing for Steven Fletcher who was unable to meet the centre.
In the 25th minute things nearly got worse as Mark Schwarzer cleared a Sunderland corner allowing. Dejagah to race on and shoot wide on his left foot wide from 18 yards.
Sunderland had failed to heed their warning and 11 minutes before the break the visitors broke again.
A Sunderland corner was cleared, Jack Colback hesitated to attack a 50-50 ball and the dangerous Dejagah led the charge. A one-two with Bryan Ruiz freed Dejagah to shoot only for Simon Mignolet to save, the ball rebounding the Riether to touch home from close-range.
Eight minutes before half-time Gardner atoned for his part in the earlier penalty award, smashing home from 12 yards himself after Philippe Senderos was adjudged the have tugged Danny Graham's shirt.
A minute before half time Sessegnon dried forward before unleashing a right-footed shot shovelled wide Schwarzer for a corner.
Sunderland started the second period with renewed hope, and an early ball in from left fell at the feet of Graham, who struck low into Schwarzer's midriff.
The visitors could have added a third when an inch-perfect cross-field pass was controlled by John-Arne Riise on the left; his cross clawed away by Mignolet before O'Shea tidied up to prevent former Manchester United team-mate Berbatov from converting.
Sessegnon was at the centre of everything good for the Black Cats, teeing up Alfred N'Diaye before the hour, the Frenchman lashing over from 20
With 20 minutes to go, the Sunderland pressure told as the Lads equalised.
A Fulham ball was lifted into a completely unmarked Berbatov who prodded at Mignolet, the Belgian saving with his foot. Sunderland broke effectively with Sessegnon arriving in time to ram home from area's edge.
Sunderland were now in the ascendency and were the only side who looked like making one point three. Fulham failed to clear their lines allowing Gardner to back-heel into the path of Johnson whose shot was deflected wide of near post for a corner.
Substitute James McClean added some extra impetus on the left-hand side, his cross falling at the feet of Fletcher and N'Diaye, neither man quick enough to react by Schwarzer eventually claimed.
Larsson was next to try his luck, raking a right-footed effort agonizingly wide of Schwarzer's left-hand post with six minutes left on the clock.
In the end, neither side could find the bit of quality needed to steal an extra two points.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, O'Shea (c), Bramble, Colback; Sessegnon. N'Diaye, Larsson, Johnson; Graham (McClean) & Fletcher.
Subs not used: Bardsley, Cuellar. Vaughan, Mangane & Westwood (GK).
Fulham: Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise; Dejagah (Rodallega), Sidwell, Karagounis (Frimpong), Duff (Emmanuelson); Ruiz & Berbatov.
Subs not used: Petric, Richardson, Hughes & Etheridge (GK).
Attendance: 39 312
Referee: Mr M Halsey