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No win but at least Cats give fans hope; MATCH ANALYSIS: Preston North End 2 Sunderland 2.

Byline: JAMES HUNTER SAFC writer james.hunter@trinitymirror.com @JHUNTER Chron

SUNDERLAND could not recapture that winning feeling at Preston, but they did at least rediscover some spirit and resolve.

Those latter two qualities were entirely lacking in the embarrassing midweek 5-2 defeat at Ipswich, leaving supporters both furious and fearful of what might lie ahead.

On the back of that result, and a winless streak of eight league games, the last place Simon Grayson would have wanted to go was back to Deepdale to face his former club - particularly as Preston had lost only once all season and were flying high in the top six of the Championship.

With just under 3,000 fans making the trip from Wearside, he could not afford another horror show, and the resulting fortnight-long inquest that would have taken place in the international break. He responded by making five changes - including dropping Lamine Kone, who has been a liability for 12 months, and midfielder Darron Gibson, who was well below-par on his first league start of the season at Ipswich - and switching to 4-4-2, with those bold decisions paying dividends.

Because, rather than buckle under the pressure, Sunderland produced a much-improved performance that deserved more than the point it garnered.

Certainly at half-time, Sunderland were much the better side and good value for the lead given them by George Honeyman.

The central defensive partnership of John O'Shea and Ty Browning looked much more solid than the pairing of Kone and Marc Wilson that was so easily undone by Ipswich.

And yet Preston turned the game on its head with two goals in the space of two minutes early in the second half, Josh Harrop finding the net with a free-kick and then Jordan Hugill scoring with an unstoppable strike from the edge of the box.

At that point, Sunderland could have gone under. The travelling fans who had given their team unstinting support were stunned into silence, and the Preston fans were taunting their ex-boss.

That was the cue for Sunderland to dig deep, and within another two minutes Aiden McGeady - another target for abuse from home fans, despite having excelled on loan there last season - levelled things up.

Preston hit the woodwork but other than that, it was Sunderland who looked by far the more likely team to find a winner in the final half-hour and they were applauded off at full-time.

Duncan Watmore's introduction from the bench for the final 25 minutes gave Sunderland a huge lift, and he looked very sharp on his comeback after nine months out with a ruptured cruciate ligament. He was a thorn in Preston's side and had referee Chris Kavanagh pointed to the penalty spot when Watmore was brought down inside the area by Ben Davies late on, he might even have inspired Sunderland to only their second win of the season.

It was not to be, but the fact that Watmore is available again will in itself be a major boost for Grayson as he seeks to turn Sunderland's fortunes around. And there remains much work to do on that score.

Sunderland will spend the international break in the bottom three, and have still won only one of 11 league games.

Even allowing for injuries, Sunderland have only seven points on the board and the season is virtually a quarter of the way through.

There will have to be a massive improvement in results if the Black Cats are to get out of trouble and start climbing the table.

But this performance at least offered some hope.

PLAYER RATINGS Jason Steele Question mark against him for the first goal, but could do nothing about the second Billy Jones Stuck to his defensive task and largely kept Maguire quiet, before going off with a hamstring problem Ty Browning Solid alongside O'Shea on his return John O'Shea Sunderland looked much better as a defensive unit, and much of it was down to his organisation Adam Matthews Had a decent game at left-back, and got forward to support the attack George Honeyman Scored the opening goal and looked a threat in the first half Didier Ndong Worked hard closing down in midfield, and provided assist for McGeady's goal 7 Lee Cattermole A big improvement on his midweek performance at Ipswich 7 Aiden McGeady Scored on his return to Deepdale and caused his old club plenty of problems 7 Lynden Gooch Set up Honeyman's opener and linked up well with Vaughan at times 6 James Vaughan Won important headers and never gave Preston's defence a moment's peace 7 SUBSTITUTES DUNCAN WATMORE....7 For Gooch, 64. Very lively on his return after nine months out BRYAN OVIEDO.............6 For Jones, 70. Did OK JONNY WILLIAMS........6 For Honeyman, 84. No time to make impact. Not used: Ruiter, McManaman, Kone, Gibson PRESTON NORTH END Maxwell 6, Fisher 6, Huntington 6, Davies 6, Earl 6, Johnson 6, Barkhuizen 5 (Horgan 68, 6), Harrop 6, Browne 6, Maguire 5 (Robinson 88, 6), Hugill 6 (Mavididi 78, 6). Not used: Hudson, Vermijl, Woods, Spurr BIG MATCH FACTS Hugill 57.

GOALS: SAFC: Honemyan 28, McGeady 59; PNEFC: Harrop 55, BOOKINGS: SAFC: O'Shea; PNEFC: Fisher. REFEREE: Chris Kavanagh (Lancs). ATTENDANCE: 17,621. NEXT MATCH: v QPR (h), Saturday, October 14 (3pm).

MATCH STATS SAFC PNEFC Shotson 4 2 Shots off 5 3 Corners 5 2 Fouls 16 15 Possession 40 60

CAPTION(S):

Sunderland's players celebrate after George Honeyman (third from right) gave them the lead at Deepdale
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 2, 2017
Words:913
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