A solitary change for Sunderland from the side that lost at West Ham, as Jack Rodwell replaced Lee Cattermole after a decent showing from the bench at Upton Park. Cattermole hadn't looked suited to playing a more advanced role in Sunderland's current set up so with Jan Kirchhoff in great form and Yann M'Vila's consistency, it always looked like the Teessider would drop to the bench. The midfield lined up as expected with Kirchhoff the deepest of the three.
For the fifth game running, Lamine Kone partnered John O'Shea in the heart of the defence while DeAndre Yedlin continued to keep a hold of the right back position. Completing Sunderland's defence was Patrick van Aanholt, making his 24th league start this campaign, and the back four would have Vito Mannone behind them.
There had been calls for Fabio Borini to take Dame N'Doye's place in the starting eleven but Sam Allardyce, unsurprisingly, stuck with the towering N'Doye. Another game in the lone striker role was set up for Jermain Defoe, something of a familiarity now which was unthinkable just six months ago. Looking to be Defoe's main source of service was Wahbi Khazri.
Crystal Palace's line would be led by ex-Sunderland man Connor Wickham, who would have the pace and trickery of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie on either wing supporting him. Wickham would be expected to bring both Zaha and Bolasie into the game as much as possible, by making runs off the ball to provide space for both wingers, whilst Jordan Mutch would give Palace an alternative attacking threat as he lined up just behind Wickham. If Sunderland had fears of the inevitability of an ex-player scoring against them, then they'd also have worries of an ex-Newcastle United player doing their old club a favour due to Yohan Cabaye starting in the middle of midfield. Alongside Cabaye in midfield would be Australia captain, Mile Jedinak.
In the reverse of this fixture earlier in the season, Scott Dann's error allowed Jermain Defoe the chance to win the game for Sunderland so there was an opportunity for him redemption at the Stadium of Light. Crystal Palace's back four was completed by the rest of their usual defensive personnel - Damien Delaney, Joel Ward and Martin Kelly, with Wayne Hennessey between the sticks.
For Sunderland, this would be the first game they'd be expected to take control of and win since their rise in form at the start of February. It would be crucial for Jan Kirchhoff to perform his usual trick of keeping calm in the middle of a frantic midfield whilst using his capable range of passing to build Sunderland's attacks. With Kichhoff sitting back, Jack Rodwell and Yann M'Vila would be expected to advance into the final third, contributing in terms of making runs to open up space for Jermain Defoe as well as feeding him, Khazri and N'Doye. It would also give Khazri alternative options to play the ball towards in a variety of different areas, giving Sunderland some interesting attacking selections.
With Sunderland employing the kind of full backs they do, van Aanholt and Yedlin would be important attacking outlets. Dame N'Doye's hold up play and Wahbi Khazri's ability to split a full back and centre half would hopefully be their biggest aides in the wide positions, getting them into the necessary positions to send crosses into the box. Both full backs would have to be wary of Crystals Palace's main attacking threats though, Zaha and Bolasie, as both players would be looking to exploit any space left by either van Aanholt or Yedlin. It therefore would see even more importance put on Kirchhoff as he'd have to cover any space that had been vacated.
Defensively, Sunderland would look to play in a similar manner to when they played Palace at Selhust Park. When not in possession,the Black Cats would look to double up on the Palace wingers whilst keeping a tight perimeter on the edge of the box, giving Palace as few shooting opportunities as possible. It wouldn't be easy though, as Yohan Cabaye and Yannick Bolasie would both fancy their chances from long range, should the opportunity present itself.
The visitors would also be relying on Jordan Mutch to give additional defensive support to Cabaye and Jedinak, to prevent Palace's midfield getting outnumbered and overran.
The game began fairly evenly as both sides were reduced to half chances and shots from outside the box. Whilst Sunderland had the majority of possession in the opening twenty minutes (54%) and much better pass success rate (76% to Palace's 54%), Crystal Palace were making up for it by making the higher amount of tackles (4-1 in their favour).
The first sight of goal Palace got came when Wilfried Zaha twisted and turned through Sunderland's defence in the wide left area, before his shot was blocked allowing Vito Mannone to make a comfortable catch. Sunderland's reaction was to go straight up the other end and warm the gloves of Wayne Hennessey as some nice build up play involving N'Doye, Khazri and Defoe allowed Jack Rodwell the chance to shoot from around twenty yards out.
Chances at either end was typical of the early stages of this game, just a few moments later Damien Delaney forced a save from Vito Mannone, at a tight angle in the six yard box, before Wahbi Khazri saw his well hit shot deflect wide only one minute later.
As the game began to settle down, Sunderland eventually started to limit Crystal Palace's chances. Between 20 and 35 minutes The Black Cats had four shots on goal whilst only allowing Palace one, the visitors chance coming from a corner which saw Scott Dann's header produce a great reaction save from Mannone. You could see Sunderland hitting their stride now though, Jan Kirchhoff was controlling everything that went through the midfield and Wahbi Khazri was carrying the ball forward very dangerously. Sunderland were dealt a blow in this period however as John O'Shea was forced to off injured meaning they'd lost their chief defensive organiser. Positively though, it saw a return to action for Younes Kaboul after his spell on the sidelines hadn't seen him feature since late December. The home side didn't let the change to the side faze them though as their attacking endeavour was rewarded on 35 minutes as Dame N'Doye's deflected effort caught Hennessey wrong footed to find the back of the net.
Some good pressing from DeAndre Yedlin and Yann M'Vila, on Yannick Bolasie, regained Sunderland possession and M'Vila quickly moved the ball forward to Defoe, who squared the ball for N'Doye to shoot 25 yards from goal.
There was a swagger to Sunderland's play between the goal and half time as they looked to try and sink Palace even further before the break. Just after the goal, Jermain Defoe hit two powerful efforts into the arms of Hennessey, one from the edge of the "D", and one just inside the box from a slightly tight angle. The chances created by Sunderland in the final ten minutes of the half was mainly down to their exceedingly superior pass completion percentage, 80% compared to Palace's lowly 50%, showing that Palace were giving the ball away and Sunderland were taking advantage of that.
There was time for one more Sunderland's opportunity just before the half time whistle - Wahbi Khazri sent in a lovely looking free kick that was just above Dame N'Doye and by the time it reached Younes Kaboul, it was at an awkward height and he couldn't adjust himself to nudge the ball on target, leading to the ball bouncing off him and over the crossbar.
Picking up from where they left off, Sunderland created the most chances, won the most tackles and had the most corners in the opening fifteen minutes of the second half. A couple of successive blocked shots from Yann M'Vila and Jack Rodwell eventually saw the ball drop to Patrick van Aanholt, whose shot wasn't blocked, but was also nowhere near the goal as it sailed high and wide.
Palace were showing signs of improvement though as the possession became closer. and the Eagles improved their pass success rate. They would punish Sunderland for not taking the chance to double their lead. Patrick van Aanholt hastily went in to challenge Wilfried Zaha, which allowed the winger to dribble the ball infield and lay a pass to Yannick Bolasie, who slipped the ball to Connor Wickham inside the penalty area. A good first touch from Wickham caught out Lamine Kone and the ex-Sunderland striker hit a forceful shot off the in off the post to draw Palace level on sixty-one minutes.
This was to be the beginning of an awful six minutes from Sunderland, as Crystal Palace then took the lead only six minutes later and it would Connor Wickham doing the damage for a second time on the night. A corner floated in from the right was nodded down by Scott Dann and Wickham blasted in the ball from close range. Jan Kirchhoff had been substituted for Lee Cattermole due to fatigue during Sunderland's collapse, and it was evident how much his departure has effected the team as Palace were now dominating possession and Sunderland's pass success rate plummeted.
It wouldn't be long until Cattermole himself was taken off, though, due to him coming off worse after a clash of heads with Jordan Mutch which left the Teessider with a potential concussion as well as a bloody cut to the forehead. Fabio Borini replaced him on eighty minutes.
With his side in front, Alan Pardew was happy for his side to sit back and frustrate Sunderland, which they did rather effectively. In the time between Palace going in front and the full time whistle, Sunderland only had two shots on goal as they struggled to break down Crystal Palace.
As the visitors sat deeper and deeper, and began to look like they'd claimed their first league win of 2016, Fabio Borini drew Sunderland level in the 90th minute with a piece of undoubted quality. Receiving the ball in the wide right area the Palace defenders expected Borini to cross the ball into a packed penalty area as he lined the ball up right on the edge of the box. Whether it was audacity, frustration or a mixture of both, Borini pinged a beautiful right footed shot that gave Wayne Hennessey no chance as it flew into the bottom left hand corner. Sunderland may have felt that they had to win this game but Borini's goal allowed them to rescue a point after a calamitous period of play almost saw them lose the match.
It was a frustrating night but one that ended with the Black Cats out of the bottom three.
It was another game for Sunderland and another game in which they have failed to keep a clean sheet. The early loss of John O'Shea really seemed to destabilise the home side, with Lamine Kone putting in his shakiest performance since his arrival which was probably down to him playing the majority of the game with Younes Kaboul, a player he has never played with. The fact that Kaboul himself also hasn't played in over two months won't have helped matters in the back four. Hopefully O'Shea's injury isn't a serious, one as Sunderland always seem to look a lot less assured without his presence and influence. O'Shea is the main organiser on the field, an attribute which none of Sunderland's quieter defenders seems to be able to take on.
Another big loss was Jan Kirchhoff, having to leave the field after the German complained of fatigue as the effects of two games in three days caught up with him. Kirchhoff oozes class in a way no other Sunderland midfielder does with his ability to keep calm in a packed midfield whilst picking out the right passes in the right areas. It's no surprise that Sunderland struggled to keep Palace at bay without him and that they struggled to create chances when Palace put more men behind the ball. When Kirchhoff was on the pitch it allowed Jack Rodwell and Yann M'Vila the chance to push forward but when he went off, no one could assume his role leading to a lack of decisiveness in Sunderland's forward play as Rodwell and M'Vila didn't seem to know when to push forward and when not to. It's vital that Sunderland keep Kirchhoff fit as he's starting to look like one of our most important players.
Sunderland (orange) had seventeen shots, many of them from outside of the eighteen yard box
Whilst Sunderland may have struggled to get shots on goal in the closing stages of the match, they did manage a respectable seventeen shots all together. If you add that to the twenty-one they had against Manchester United and then look at how many came from outside the box you could reasonably suggest that Sam Allardyce is instructing his players to shoot whenever the chance presents itself. We all know how keen Allardyce is on stats, so no one would be surprised if he's looking at stats along the lines of "if a team has x amount of shots they have a x% chance of scoring." This does get vindicated by the kind of goal Sunderland opened the scoring with -if you have a shot then you never know who it may hit and where it will end up.
Sunderland's inability to break Crystal Palace down was not aided by DeAndre Yedlin who, despite getting into some good positions, was nowhere near good enough when in position in the final third. For an attacking full back, Sam Allardyce will certainly be demanding more from the USMNT international, given how much the manager values his full backs attacking ability.
Another worry for Allardyce will be how lacklustre Sunderland looked when Palace started to put more men behind the ball, making it seem like his side can only create chances on the counter attack and when they're forced to play the ball quickly.
When they were afforded more time on the ball in the attacking half, Sunderland just didn't know what to do, which is why they created significantly less chances after Palace took the lead. It won't be too much of an issue going into this weekend's game away at Southampton - a game where Sunderland now can't afford not to come away from empty handed - as the Saints will be expected to control the game. Opposition scouts and managers may have taken note of this Sunderland frailty and look to use it against them in the coming weeks.
Hopefully, Sunderland will make their counter attacks count for more than they did against Crystal Palace at the weekend.