Forgotten man David Healy teamed up with Kenwyne Jones as Sunderland snatched a
precious derby point at Middlesbrough.
The Northern Ireland international crossed for his Trinidad and Tobago
counterpart to fire home an 82nd-minute equaliser just when it looked as though
Boro had ended an eight-game wait for a Barclays Premier League victory.
Gareth Southgate's men had taken the lead in the final minute of the first half
when winger Stewart Downing put a difficult week behind him to set up record
signing Afonso Alves, who blasted home his third goal in a week.
But had it not been for a goal-line clearance by Adam Johnson from fellow
substitute Carlos Edwards three minutes from time, the visitors would have left
the Riverside Stadium with all three points.
The late flurry provided an eventful conclusion to a largely uneventful game,
and there is little doubt that the travelling fans among a crowd of 29,310 on a
bitterly cold afternoon at the Riverside would have been the happier as they
headed off on their short journey back up the A19.
Boro were left to reflect upon what might have been, although Southgate would
have been disappointed with the way his side capitulated after losing impressive
central midfield pairing Josh Walker and Didier Digard to injury.
Downing, who spent much of the week in discussions with Southgate, chairman
Steve Gibson and chief executive Keith Lamb after seeing his transfer request
and at least two bids from Tottenham rejected, was included in the starting
line-up and his presence was greeted warmly when his name was announced.
By the time he and his team-mates headed for the dressing room at half-time,
his stock had risen further after a dreadful 45 minutes finally exploded into
life right at the end of the half.
Neither goalkeeper had been forced to make a save of any note as the clock
ticked into the 45th minute of a game which was crucial to both sides.
But it was then that Downing, playing just behind lone striker Alves, who
turned up on the right to collect the South American's pass and then return the
favour as the club's £12.7million record signing headed into the box.
Alves' finish was emphatic and left goalkeeper Marton Fulop stranded, sending
the home fans into raptures.
That brief cameo, however, was in stark contrast to much of what had gone
before with the two sides largely cancelling each other out.
Boro enjoyed the better of the few chances that came the way of either team,
Sunderland old boy Julio Arca firing just wide under pressure from Nyron
Nosworthy on the half-hour, and Tuncay Sanli and Digard both going just over
At the other end, Djibril Cisse guided a weak 28th-minute header wide from
Danny Collins' floated cross, but other than that, the visitors created little.
That was as much down to the effectiveness of Boro's midfield, in which Digard
and teenager Walker were quietly impressive, as to their own failings, and
manager Ricky Sbragia had plenty of talking to do at the break.
Walker's afternoon, however, ended in tears just two minutes into the second
half when, after he had pulled out of an aerial challenge, he left the pitch in
some discomfort to be replaced by Johnson.
The newcomer lined up on the left side of midfield with Arca pushing inside to
join forces with Digard, and it did not take long for the youngster to make his
Downing broke with 53 minutes gone and picked Johnson out on the left, and he
cut inside before firing a right-foot shot into Fulop's midriff.
The game was becoming increasingly physical and Digard and Kieran Richardson
both needed treatment after an horrific clash of heads, the Sunderland man
earning a booking for his part in the incident.
Digard eventually admitted defeat and walked off with his head in his hands as
he was replaced by defender Matthew Bates, and Sbragia responded by sending on
Andy Reid for the ineffectual El-Hadji Diouf.
He was soon followed by Healy, and the Northern Ireland striker wasted little
time in making his mark, collecting Reid's 82nd-minute pass on the right and
squaring for Jones to beat Chris Riggott and Tony McMahon to the ball and
sidefoot past Ross Turnbull to snatch a point.
It might have been worse for Boro when Edwards got his head to Reid's late
corner, but Johnson was in the right place at the right time to rescue his