Oscar Chamberlain reviews all the action from Deepdale as Simon Grayson returned to Lancashire to face Preston North End.
The Black Cats boss made changes ahead of the game and his faith was rewarded as George Honeyman opened the scoring, but they were forced to come from behind when Josh Harrop and Jordan Hugill struck after the restart.
Aiden McGeady dragged the Black Cats level with a sumptuous finish on his return to Deepdale, but the Black Cats were forced to settle for a point as numerous decisions went against them in the closing stages.
Grayson made five changes against his former club as John O’Shea, Tyias Browning, Didier Ndong, Honeyman and Lynden Gooch lined up against the Lilywhites. Lamine Kone, Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson and Callum McManaman dropped to the bench as Marc Wilson missed out, but the biggest news came from outside the starting XI as Duncan Watmore was included in the matchday squad for the first time since December. Jonny Williams was also amongst the substitutes.
A cracking atmosphere greeted the sides as they exited the tunnel with over 3,000 Sunderland fans camped in enemy territory, and they gave their team a noticeable lift in the opening 10 minutes as Gooch led the charge. A superb ball slipped into Honeyman’s path yielded the first opportunity but a heavy touch from the midfielder was snapped up by the PNE backline. And with seven minutes on the clock Gooch was charging forward again, as his deflected cross was expertly gathered by Chris Maxwell.
As the clocked ticked past the quarter-hour mark, Preston started to flex their offensive muscles and their first attempt ended in screams of ‘penalty’ as Alan Browne’s effort cannoned off a body Chris Kavanagh waved play on. An aerial assault followed as Alex Neil sought to exploit the frailties that plagued the Black Cats at Portman Road, but the Lads defended confidently and frustration started to build. Darnell Fisher was first to crack and he picked up a booking after petulantly kicking the ball away, but it could have been far worse for the right-back as Honeyman volleyed wide following the resulting set piece.
Eyebrows were raised when Honeyman and Gooch were named in the starting XI despite the duo impressing on numerous occasions this season, but any doubts were put to bed on 28 minutes. Gooch continued his excellent start and Vaughan was instrumental, with the American racing onto the striker’s flick on before feeding Honeyman who slammed the ball beyond Maxwell. Preston fought back but under the leadership of O’Shea the Black Cats held firm, ensuring they led 1-0 at the break.
Preston opted for a more direct approach following the restart and they fired an early warning when Hugill’s over-hit pass dashed Tom Barkhuizen’s hopes of a simple finish. But the frustrated jeers of the home support were soon turned to cheers, as Neil’s side struck an emphatic double to take a 2-1 lead. Harrop’s stunning free-kick dragged the Lilywhites level on 55 minutes and within 120 seconds they were wheeling away again, as Hugill slammed a sensational volley in via the crossbar. But the drama wasn’t over yet. Not by a long way. And three minutes later McGeady equalised with a classy finish and an even better celebration, as he steered the ball past Maxwell before running the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the home fans.
After Browne curled an effort off the crossbar, the return of Watmore injected further mecane into the Sunderland attack and he immediately threatened. The forward switched on the afterburners to track down Honeyman’s long ball and he beat Maxwell to the punch 40 yards from goal, with ‘keeper bodychecking the youngster while also clearing the danger with his hands. But injustice followed as the referee awarded a throw in before cautioning O’Shea for his warranted protests. Vaughan was then hauled to the ground in the box as the referee watched on unmoved, so there was little surprise that play continued when Watmore suffered a similar fate moments later.
PRESTON CLING ON
Preston, meanwhile, continued to push forward but they were caught out with nine minutes remaining as a Preston defender failed to run the ball out of play and Watmore stole in. The winger couldn’t believe his luck and he remained cool to pick out Cattermole, but the midfielder was closed down as he pulled the trigger and his effort scuffed wide. Williams entered the fray as Grayson went all in and for a second time Watmore tumbled in the box, but it wasn’t to be as Preston clung on to seal a share of the spoils.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Browne, Hugill (Mavididi 77), Harrop, Johnson, Fisher, Davies, Huntington, Maguire (Robinson 88), Barkhuizen (Horgan 69), Earl.
Subs: Hudson, Vermijl, Woods, Spurr.
Sunderland: Steele, Jones (Oviedo 70), O’Shea, Browning, Matthews Cattermole, Ndong, Honeyman (Williams 84), McGeady, Gooch (Watmore 64), Vaughan.
Substitutes: Ruiter, McManaman, Kone, Gibson.