An arctic afternoon featuring two brilliant goals from Patrick Bamford, two straight red cards and a flock of seagulls persistently swooping low across the pitch concluded with Callum McManaman volleying a dramatic late equaliser for Sunderland.
Bamford’s class in Tony Pulis’s frontline seemed to have settled things in Middlesbrough’s favour when McManaman dented Teesside play-off hopes by earning Chris Coleman’s side a potentially vital point in their relegation fight. The winger celebrated by pointedly racing towards Pulis and provocatively mock-saluting Boro’s manager.
During their West Brom days, McManaman had been exiled from the first team and told he was “not good enough” by his old boss. Revenge seemed sweet.
“No I’m not really angry with Callum,” said Pulis. “We had a bit of banter. I understand his frustration. I wasn’t picking him at West Brom and now Chris isn’t starting him here.”
Despite McManaman’s intervention, Sunderland remain bottom of the Championship and could really have done with winning this one. Particularly on a day when Josh Maja flicked Adam Matthews’ long throw in Joel Asoro’s direction and the young Swedish striker gave them an early, close-range lead.
Unfortunately for Coleman, Jake Clarke-Salter possibly interpreted his manager’s call for increased aggression rather too literally and was soon shown a straight red card for an awful challenge on Adama Traoré. The Chelsea loanee had struggled to subdue Traoré’s right-sided advances and lunged in recklessly, hacking the winger down after missing the ball completely. “The referee got both red cards right,” said Coleman. “As I’ve told Jake, if you lose your head on the pitch you’re off.”
Shortly afterwards, Traoré turned self-destructive, being shown a red card of his own after smashing a forearm into Bryan Oviedo’s chest in an off-the-ball altercation at a corner. The referee consulted one of his assistants before marching orders were issued and an aggrieved Traoré was ushered down the tunnel following a confrontation with the fourth official.
It was his second sending-off this season but Pulis believes the winger should not be in hot water with the Football Association after claiming Oviedo had first poked him in an eye. “We’ve seen it on replays,” he said. “Adama’s not pushed him for no reason. It’s a reaction. I’ve told Adama he can’t react but he’s had a finger in his eye.”
Bamford raised the tone with a high-calibre equaliser. It involved the former Chelsea striker swivelling adroitly and switching the ball from his right to his left foot after connecting with George Friend’s knockdown from Stewart Downing’s cross. With Lamine Koné wrong-footed, Bamford shot low into the bottom corner.
Boro took the lead after Lee Camp felled Britt Assombalonga in the area. Grant Leadbitter stepped forward to send Camp the wrong way from the penalty spot before raising his eyes to the heavens. A few years ago the now Boro captain was a Sunderland midfielder and he helped bury his father’s ashes near the halfway line here. Declining to celebrate, he simply touched the evocative piece of turf.
Refusing to surrender, Sunderland levelled when Jonny Williams drove Oviedo’s cutback beyond Darren Randolph, with Pulis’s defence dozing. Not to be upstaged Bamford, who between his goals missed a sitter, collected Muhamed Besic’s superb pass, dodged John O’Shea and rounded Camp with a clever flick, before finishing crisply. “Patrick’s played really well,” said Pulis. “He’s got two good goals but I’m really disappointed with the chance he missed, nine times out of 10 he’d score.”
As the seagulls swooped it seemed Boro’s day but, in volleying Oviedo’s stoppage-time corner home, McManaman changed the narrative. “I thought Callum was running to me,” said Coleman. “But I was blanked. He had a few words with Tony instead.”