Football: Sunderland came back from two goals down to draw against Fulham but, while they will be grateful for the point, they will feel they should have had more.
It was referee Mark Halsey who was the centre of attention, awarding both teams a penalty and denying the home side's appeals for another two when Emmanuel Frimpong and then Philippe Senderos appeared to handle with Sunderland looking for the equaliser.
"It was an incident packed game, but we fought back and I think we could and should have won the game," Mackems boss Martin O'Neill said afterwards. "It was a clear penalty when Senderos handled and the referee chose not to give it for whatever reason. The players could not have given more effort. We had enough pressure and balls going into the box that we should have got something."
Sunderland made a bright start with John O'Shea hitting the side-netting with a header within first two minutes. However after 14 minutes they found themselves behind after Craig Gardner tripped Ashkan Dejagah to concede a penalty.
Initially referee Halsey seemed to wave Fulham's appeals away before pointing to the spot and also to his ear, suggesting it was assistant referee David Bryan who saw the foul. Dimitar Berbatov made no mistake, the Bulgarian calmly stroking the ball home after a cheeky, halting run-up.
While Sunderland could feel aggrieved by the opener they only had themselves to blame for the second. It came from a corner — one of their own. Berbatov headed clear, setting Bryan Ruiz on a surging run to the edge of Black Cats area. He then played in Dejagah whose shot was palmed away by Simon Mignolet, but only into the path of Sascha Riether who converted.
The crowd's stunned silence suggested they thought their team was dead and buried, but within a couple of minutes they were back in the game.
Senderos pulled back Danny Graham in the box and the referee again pointed to the spot — a little more quickly this time. Gardner stepped up and converted with a venom which suggested that he was making a point.
The second half began as did the first with Sunderland making all the running as they pressed for an equaliser.
Graham went close several times and, with 20 minutes left, the Black Cats equalised with a counter-attacking goal which mirrored Fulham's second.
Ruiz played in Berbatov with a chip over the Sunderland defence, but the Bulgarian's shot was saved at point-blank range by Mignolet.
In the blink of an eye Stephane Sessegnon had run the length of the pitch before feeding Adam Johnson. The winger's shot was blocked, but only into the path of Sessegnon who'd continued his run and levelled with a drive from the edge of the area.
"It was a very important save in the course of the game," said O'Neill. "It would have been a long way back from 3-1, but within 20 seconds we were 2-2 so it was a big moment."
Despite their equaliser, Sunderland's sense of injustice was re-enforced in the 80th minute when Fulham substitute Frimpong clearly blocked Johnson's shot with his hands.
Mark Halsey didn't see it or thought it was ball to hand, but either way he only gave a corner. Then minutes later Senderos handled in a goal-line scramble.
If either side was going to win at this point it was likely to be Sunderland, but, despite their pressure, they couldn't find the final touch, leaving them ruing their first-half carelessness.
"We dominated them in the first half," said Fulham boss Martin Jol. "The penalty gave them a bit of confidence. After that it wasn't easy, but we should have scored to make it 3-1 just before they equalised.
"They play very adventurously, almost in a 4-2-4 formation and we dominated the midfield and we should have punished them. We should have won."
Sessegnon's goal means Sunderland avoided their fourth straight League defeat but they've notched up just two points from the last 15, leaving them looking nervously over their shoulder. If there is a silver lining to this particular cloud it's that they leapfrog Newcastle in the table.
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