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Stephane Sessegnon rescued a point for Sunderland as they fought back to snatch a draw against Fulham. The Londoners led 2-0 after 35 minutes through Dimitar Berbatov's audacious penalty and Sascha Riether's close-range finish. However, Craig Gardner, who had conceded the spot-kick, dragged the Black Cats back into it when he too converted a penalty before the break, and Sessegnon prevented his side from slipping to a fourth successive Barclays Premier League defeat when he fired home with 20 minutes remaining. Both sides could have won it in a frenetic conclusion but they had to make do with a point apiece.
Martin Jol, whose Fulham side arrived on Wearside three points better off than their hosts, could be forgiven for thinking they should have been leaving with a victory, but the Black Cats were just about value for their draw.
Sunderland desperately needed a win after taking just one point from their last four games, but for more than half an hour, they looked incapable of achieving it. They found themselves in deep trouble by the time 35 minutes had elapsed and worryingly for manager Martin O'Neill, Fulham barely had to break sweat to claim their advantage.
They took the lead with 16 minutes gone when Gardner was adjudged to have tripped Ashkan Dejagah inside the box by referee Mark Halsey. Berbatov's execution from 12 yards was calm as he stuttered up to the ball before side-footing it to the left of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who was rooted to the spot as he attempted to second-guess the Bulgarian. It could have been worse for the Black Cats nine minutes later when Dejagah got in on the left, only to fire across goal, but the respite was temporary.
Johnson's 35th-minute corner was cleared by Berbatov and Fulham broke at pace and in numbers before Mignolet could only parry Dejagah's shot from a tight angle to Riether, who tapped home. Sunderland, who had gone close through John O'Shea's second-minute header, were struggling, but were handed a way back into the game within two minutes.
Central defender Philippe Senderos fouled Danny Graham as the pair challenged for a ball over the top and Mr Halsey awarded a second penalty. Where Berbatov had opted for guile, Gardner chose power to smash a rising shot - his side's first on target - past Mark Schwarzer to give them hope.
The home side were instantly rejuvenated as they set about the task of restoring parity, and Sessegnon might have levelled with a minute of the first half remaining when he unleashed a right-foot shot which Schwarzer bundled around the post.
O'Neill's men headed for the dressing room at least having taken the edge off the manager's half-time team-talk, but knowing they needed to improve drastically if they were to turn the game around. They might have been back on level terms within two minutes of the restart when Steven Fletcher and Graham combined for the first time of note in the game, but the former Swansea frontman scuffed his shot tamely at Schwarzer.
Berbatov blasted high and wide from distance after finding space on the right with 49 minutes gone, but the visitors continued to pose the greater threat with Berbatov in imperious form. Alfred N'Diaye went close twice within a minute, firing just too high from distance and then heading well over Schwarzer's crossbar, but the Black Cats were starting to cause problems on a sustained basis.
The game would have effectively been over had Mignolet not raced from his line to block Berbatov's effort after Bryan Ruiz had played him in with a lofted pass, and the save proved crucial within seconds when Sessegnon drilled home from 15 yards after the ball broke invitingly for him.
Fletcher was inches away from getting a touch to Gardner's driven 75th-minute cross, but Berbatov passed up a glorious opportunity to win it seconds later when he shot weakly at Mignolet. It took a point-blank block by Brede Hangeland to deny Fletcher a headed winner, but Sunderland were at last able to end their damaging losing run.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill: “Simon [Mignolet]’s save was a big moment for us. We could have gone 3-1 behind but within 25 seconds we made it two apiece. [Stephane] Sessegnon’s goal was special following the magnificent save from Mignolet – it was a pivotal moment in the game.
“We conceded a penalty early in the game. We got caught in the midst of it all and we then found ourselves two goals behind. It was a great fightback to get to 2-2. It was important to get a goal before half-time and we managed to do that. We piled pressure on them and I think we deserved to take a point.”
Fulham manager Martin Jol: "If you see the second half, you always expect something to happen but if you see the first half we dominated. It was not an easy second half, we should have scored and in hindsight we deserved a bit more. They [Sunderland] are a good side but they have not had a lot of wins at home so we know they play very adventurous and we dominated the midfield and I still feel we should have punished them.
"Before today, if they had beat us they would have been on 32 [points] - and everyone can be dragged into a difficult situation - on one hand a point is good but on the other three points would have meant we had done the business today but we didn't.”
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