Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur are still haunted by the threat of relegation from the Premier League after a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light. Sharing the spoils left both clubs five points above the bottom three, but they each wasted a marvelous opportunity to open up a significant gap on the other teams in trouble. Sunderland, though, were the more aggrieved after leading for most of the game. They scored an early goal through Kieran Richardson and looked set to claim all three points until Robbie Keane equalised in the 89th minute.
Only 131 seconds had elapsed when former Spurs player Steed Malbranque's persistence down the right flank led to Richardson latching on to a loose ball outside the area. The midfielder's first touch was excellent as he accelerated deep into the area and beat goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes with a composed finish for his fourth goal of the season. It was ominous for Tottenham because Sunderland's defence have developed a mean streak at the Stadium of Light and kept clean sheets in four of their last five home games.
But they were without the injured Anton Ferdinand and soon appeared vulnerable whenever Aaron Lennon was involved down Tottenham's right wing. Lennon's pace created two chances in quick succession, but strikers Keane and Darren Bent were unable to take advantage of his crosses. And they were responsible for the next hint of a goal when Bent's 32nd minute free-kick was saved by Marton Fulop, the Hungarian goalkeeper who kept his place despite a mistake in the midweek defeat at Liverpool.
Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia's faith in Fulop certainly appeared justified two minutes later when he was quickly off his line to block a close-range attempt by Ledley King, who looked set to score after a free-kick rebounded to him off Bent. Three bookings in quick succession reflected the tension of a match, which meant so much to two teams desperate to take advantage of a day when none of their relegation rivals was involved in league action.
But Sunderland could have calmed their own nerves if they had been able to take advantage of a dreadful blunder by Gomes seven minutes from the interval. The Brazilian charged from his goal and failed to gather a cross that would have been comfortably cleared by King. As Gomes scrambled around his area, Kenwyne Jones almost turned in the loose ball before Wilson Palacios's intervention finally enabled the keeper to end the danger.
Spurs were relieved to escape again at the start of the second-half when Sunderland were again quick to get into their stride. With Tottenham appealing in vain for offside, Djibril Cisse raced clear, but capped his break with a poor shot into the side-netting. Spurs manager Harry Redknapp's relief at Cisse's miss quickly turned to frustration as his side wasted three chances in the space of four minutes.
Lennon's dreadful cross ended a break when Sunderland were outnumbered at the back and then Bent was off-target with two shots from excellent positions. Redknapp threw up his arms and turned away in disgust on all three occasions and it was no surprise when he soon made a change, as Tom Huddlestone replaced Jermaine Jenas in midfield.
It seemed that Tottenham's best chances of rescuing a point may have gone and they were fortunate not to go further behind when Jones narrowly failed to turn in a cross from Andy Reid. And Cisse wasted an even better opportunity when he headed wide from another cross by the Republic of Ireland international. But seconds after Sunderland's appeals for a penalty were turned down, Bent broke down the right and his cross was crisply turned inside the post by Keane.