Whilst they didn’t get the whole three points that would have left Sunderland fans looking even more nervously over their shoulders at League One, Leeds United’s share of the points did grey the day for the Black Cats.
A late Birmingham equaliser means that Sunderland are now seven points from safety and with only five games and 15 points left to preserve their Championship status.
It was all Leeds United in the opening exchanges, the Whites driving at the visitors from Wearside with Spanish magician Pablo Hernandez at the heart of their early endeavours. Time and again, Hernandez linked up with the Leeds players around him to put the Whites in dangerous positions like when played in by fellow Spaniard Samu Saiz (15′), his low cross in to the box only just failing to reach Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Gianni Alioski.
📸 | Ronaldo Vieira watches on as his snap shot is denied by a fine save from Lee Camp 0-0 pic.twitter.com/hmYemlH44M
— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 7, 2018
It was Leeds that threatened moments later (18′), when Stuart Dallas’ neat ball into the Sunderland area saw Ronaldo Vieira smash a shot against Lee Camp’s near post. Sunderland were proving no mugs though, showing a lot of enterprise through the likes of Lyndon Gooch and Donald Love. It was Gooch who set up Aidan McGeady for Sunderland’s clearest chance (26′), his stretching header being easily saved by the impressive Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
Sunderland, having recovered from the early Leeds pressure, began to put the home side under concerted pressure, forcing a series of corners. It was from one of those corners (41′) that the Black Cats came closest, McGeady’s delivery finding Ashley Fletcher whose glanced header came back off the bar.
Half-time score: Leeds United 0 – 0 Sunderland
It was the home side who kicked off the second 45 minutes, but it was the visitors who really kicked off proceedings. Sunderland took the lead, the architect being the impressive Donald Love. He played a beautiful flick over the top which Paddy McNair (49′) fair larruped into the top right corner giving Peacock-Farrell no chance. Moments later Aiden McGeady went down under a challenge from a back-tracking Saiz, the referee waving play on.
With the wind in their sails, the Wearsiders continued to push at the home side, looking for a vital second goal and knowing they couldn’t afford to sit back on a one-goal lead. Gooch and Love continued to be at the heart of Sunderland’s best work, but Leeds continued to beaver away – Pablo Hernandez proving unplayable at times.
A mini-series of intense pressure from the Whites saw the impressive Hernandez fluff a free-kick before (59′) setting up Stuart Dallas with a dinked cross, the Irishman’s driven ball ending up hitting the floor and going out for a goal-kick. Leeds had the bit between their teeth and another Hernandez ball (65′) saw German striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga head wide under pressure from two Black Cat defenders.
It was, of course, Pablo Hernandez who brought Leeds United level and it was a deserved goal for a player whose magisterial display set him apart from all others on the pitch. Lasogga then won the ball in midfield, feeding the onrushing Dallas. He charged forward, fed Alioski, who flicked it on to Samu Saiz. He dinked it to Pablo Hernandez who trapped it, turned inside and curled the ball past a helpless Lee Camp. This sparked Leeds into action, the Whites looking for a second.
📸 | Pablo runs over to the West Stand in celebration after picking up his 9th goal of the season 1-1 pic.twitter.com/NlDLN01rjm
— Leeds United (@LUFC) April 7, 2018
However, Sunderland’s hardworking midfield began to drag them back in to the game, McGeady earning a corner that he took. His floated inswinger was met cleanly by Fletcher who goalbound header (76′) was turned away impressively by an excellent reflex save from Peacock-Farrell.
Another moment of Hernandez magic saw him break and play a ball on to Alioski’s head, the Macedonian stretching to head off the underside of the bar and into to grasp of a grateful Camp. Sunderland had Camp to thank moments later as a firm hand from the on-loan Cardiff keeper stopped Saiz from giving Leeds a second.
The home side continued to press and a through ball for Ekuban (87′) saw his shot blocked by a sliding defender. A foul on Hernandez in the build up saw a free-kick on the right of the area, Saiz (89′) smashing the kick off the inside of the post with Camp beaten all ends up.
As the game moved to the 90 minutes, there was time for a red card for Gaetano Berardi after he slid in on Sunderland youngster Callum McManaman. The resulting fallout saw Pontus Jansson receive a yellow for his protestations. Vurnon Anita also came on to replace Saiz and give the home side some added defensive strength. Bailey Peacock-Farrell again came to Leeds’ rescue as time ran out, pushing away a rising shot from impressive youngster McManaman.
Full-time score: Leeds United 1 – 1 Sunderland