LONDON (AFP) – Sunderland climbed out of the relegation zone after Jordi Gomez’s late strike and a Steven Fletcher double inspired a crucial 3-1 win at fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Monday.
Gus Poyet’s side began the day in the bottom three, but their hopes of avoiding a lengthy battle for Premier League survival were enhanced by Gomez’s goal with just 11 minutes left at Selhurst Park.
Scotland striker Fletcher had given Sunderland a first half lead before Wes Brown’s own goal drew the Eagles level soon after the interval.
With a draw looking likely, Spanish midfielder Gomez fired home from the edge of the area and, after Palace’s Australia midfielder Mile Jedinak was sent off for a second booking, Fletcher netted again in stoppage-time to seal the points.
The victory was just Sunderland’s second in the league this season and it lifted them above Palace into 15th place, while the south Londoners are now outside the relegation zone only on goal difference after their fifth defeat of the campaign.
“It means a lot, more than anyone can think,” Poyet said. “The idea was to come back, somehow, from the recent defeats.
“I am pleased because it was a day that was all about winning, fighting, playing ugly when you have to.” Palace boss Neil Warnock added: “It is a cruel game sometimes. We are distraught tonight, everyone is asking why we don’t get decisions and nobody seems to know.”
Poyet stuck with goalkeeper Vito Mannone and the back four which was hammered 8-0 at Southampton for the defeat to Arsenal last weekend but he made two alterations here.
Although Mannone and Brown lost their places in the porous Sunderland side, Poyet moved Santiago Vergini into a central role to accommodate debutant Anthony Reveillere.
Poyet almost rued the decision to play the man who scored such a spectacular own goal in the St Mary’s mauling as Vergini was lucky to escape conceding a penalty in the opening seconds.
Warnock has been outspoken about refereeing decisions costing his side points in recent games and he was left shaking his head having only just taken his place in the dugout when Vergini hacked at Fraizer Campbell. Despite Palace’s bright start, it was the visitors who took the lead in the 31st minute when Fletcher took advantage of poor marking to head in Sunderland’s first away league goal since the opening day of the season.
Warnock’s side turned up the heat in the second half and levelled through Brown’s own goal when the former Manchester United centre-back, on as a substitute for the injured Patrick van Aanholt, accidently turned Campbell’s backheel over the line via a post.
Sunderland could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop after such an unfortunate goal.
But they kept Palace at bay and were rewarded when former Wigan midfielder Gomez bagged his maiden league goal for the club in the 79th minute with a perfectly placed strike in the far corner.
Jedinak earned his second booking in the 87th minute for kicking out at Gomez and a bad night for Palace was confirmed in the last minute of stoppage-time when Fletcher latched onto Liam Bridcutt’s pass to fire past Julian Speroni.