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A last minute goal from substitute Daryl Murphy denied the boys back to back wins and it ended all square against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

A last minute goal from substitute Daryl Murphy denied the boys back to back wins and it ended all square against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Robbie Keane's goal on 37 minutes came very close to settling the contest, his eighth goal of the season duly provided by his strike partner Jermain Defoe. But the Sunderland Murphy managed to plot a route past Paul Stalteri as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes and squeezed the ball past Paul Robinson.

A fifth win on the road looked to be in the bag, but once more late goals have cost dear.

There were three returns to the side from the X1 that started against Charlton last weekend, Lee Young-Pyo was back from compassionate leave, Michael Dawson back from suspension and Edgar Davids back from injury.

Mido was among the substitutes after his African Nations voyage, while there was also a place on the bench for new signing Danny Murphy.

The match began in an edgy fashion at probably a two thirds full Stadium of Light on a fairly mild afternoon in the North East. The pitch was a bit sandy and bobbly, which was not really going to lend itself to a free-flowing passing contest.

The 20 minute point was reached with both keepers barely getting a touch of the ball, let alone making a save. Paul Robinson put that right with a fairly comfortable field shortly after following a low drive from Tommy Miller. A raking cross from Liam Lawrence then forced Michael Dawson into a damage preventing header inside his own six yard box.

Sunderland had taken the initiative and were certainly the more purposeful of the two teams midway through the half. Jonathan Stead bundled through down the Sunderland left channel on 27 minutes before wrapping foot around ball and skidding a shot across the face of Robinson's goal.

Our own team were struggling to make in-roads into home defences, a well-drilled bank of four with full-backs advancing none too often.

Home keeper Kelvin Davis was first into action on 33 minutes with two relatively routine saves in the space of a minute reacting to efforts from Aaron Lennon and Keane. Lennon's quick thinking from a free-kick moments later saw to that Keane was presented with a clear sight of goal, but his shot fell the wrong side of Davis' right-hand upright.

It was as if some of the sting had been drawn from Sunderland - and probably a little more was on 37 minutes. Michael Carrick brilliantly picked out the run of Defoe down the right flank and the little fella's low cross evaded the goalkeeper and retreating defenders and Keane was ready and waiting at the far post to tap the ball into an empty net.

The home support fell silent with a hint of resignation, while the travelling masses maybe dared ponder the prospect of a fifth away win of the season.

Sunderland began the second period with spirits visibly lifted and the home support responded to the increase in urgency. It was clearly game far from over.

The Black Cats scratched at the door without really looking like opening it as the boys went into contain and counter mode in the first third after the interval.

It was debut time just after the hour as Murphy prepared to make his entrance. While he was waiting Kevin Kyle got the better of Dawson and sent Stead scurrying away down the left. The former Blackburn man dispatched a low cross that appeared perfectly measured for Lawrence to slide home, but the ball thankfully continued on its path across goal.

It was Davids who made way for Murphy, allowing Lennon to switch to his natural right and Jenas into the middle. The new man took up position on the left flank.

Sunderland began to pop high balls into the area to capitalise on the height of Kyle and Stead and there were a couple of uneasy moments. A second was needed and Mido was bought on to provide further ammunition in the 70th minute in place of goalscorer Keane, who took a knock to the foot a few minutes earlier.

Defoe provided Stalteri with a presentable chance on 76 minutes, with the full-back pushed up to the penalty area, the striker's cross was hit goalwards but not convincingly and was blocked.

Jenas nearly snatched the points after Murphy's late intervention, but a likely three was reduced to one and heads were very down when the final whistle shrilled through the North East air.