SUNDERLAND’S bid to avoid relegation from the Premier League will go right to the very last game of the season after they relinquished a one-goal lead to go down at Portsmouth.
Ricky Sbragia’s men had survival in their sights when striker Kenwyne Jones tapped home the opening goal.
But the optimism lasted barely a minute when John Utaka levelled the scores before Phil Bardsley’s own goal and a late Armand Traore strike compounded the misery.
The result now means Sunderland must beat Chelsea at the Stadium of Light on Saturday to make sure of finishing above north-east rivals Newcastle and Hull and surviving the drop, but boss Sbragia knows his side must defend an awful lot better if they are to pull off a miracle escape.
“It’s happening too often in general – we play well, we think we’re sort of in charge of the game. We kept the lead for two minutes, and that’s not acceptable. The second goal was a bad mistake by Anton Ferdinand. He switched off. I would imagine he should have just put his foot through it and helped it on.”
Portsmouth started like a team mightily relieved to be assured of safety and in their care-free state came within inches of taking the lead – Peter Crouch heading against the inside of the post for Ferdinand to clear before Jones did the exact same thing at the other end from Steed Malbranque’s cross.
It was against the run of play in which Sunderland broke the deadlock – Jones tapping home Calum Davenport’s cross – but within seconds Pompey were level when Utaka took advantage of a fortunate richochet off Grant Leadbitter to fire home.
Eight minutes later, Sunderland were caught napping again as Pompey went in front. Ferdinand played and missed a woefully attempted clearance, allowing Utaka to run clear, forcing Bardsley to slide the ball into his own net with his challenge.
Substitute Djibril Cisse and Jones both squandered good opportunities for Sunderland, but their night was complete when Utaka found Traore on the left and he drilled a shot past Marton Fulop.
Pompey boss Paul Hart confirmed after the game that keeper David James will miss England’s summer World Cup qualifiers with a shoulder injury.