Sam Allardyce blamed nerves for Sunderland’s below-par performance at Stoke and was relieved to come away with a draw.
The Black Cats looked set to suffer a hugely costly defeat in their battle against relegation after Marko Arnautovic put the hosts ahead in the 50th minute.
Sunderland offered little but Jermain Defoe won an injury-time penalty when he went down under Geoff Cameron’s challenge and the striker confidently dispatched his 14th Premier League goal of the season.
The 1-1 draw was not enough to keep Sunderland out of the bottom three with Newcastle winning, but it could yet prove crucial.
Allardyce said: “I was happy to accept a point today, that’s a point gained rather than two points lost. Our performance wasn’t the best. We accept that.
“We looked a little bit nervous, more than we’ve ever done before. Maybe the lads were feeling the pressure a little bit today and that caused us to give far too many easy balls away.
“I don’t think anybody could complain about the penalty because Jermain was through one on one with the goalkeeper and would have probably scored. I think the defender knew he was beaten so he stuck the leg out and brought him down.”
It was a tale of two penalties in the North East relegation scrap, with Crystal Palace missing one that could have earned them a draw against Newcastle.
The Magpies are now a point ahead of their bitter rivals but Sunderland have a game in hand.
Allardyce said of Newcastle’s result: ” Those things are not in our control. What’s in our control is making sure that we try and win next week and then make the game in hand really count against Everton.
“That’s our big task in the next two games. If we can hold our nerve, we have the capabilities to see if we can try and do the escape that this club has done for the last two or three years.”
Defoe is undoubtedly Sunderland’s trump card. The former England man was the one player to trouble the Stoke defence consistently, and Allardyce made no attempt to hide Defoe’s importance to his team’s hopes.
“He’s got 14 Premier League goals in a struggling side,” said the Sunderland boss.
“One of our big problems is the rest of the players have not chipped in with enough goals. Without him, we probably would have already been relegated.”
Both managers were unhappy with referee Craig Pawson’s performance.
Allardyce argued Arnautovic’s goal should have been disallowed for a foul by Peter Crouch on Younes Kaboul and that his side should have had a penalty in the first half for a handball by Cameron.
Mark Hughes, not surprisingly, saw Defoe’s penalty differently to his opposite number, saying: ” I thought it was a soft one.”
The Welshman could at least reflect on a much better performance as Stoke’s run of conceding four goals in three consecutive games came to an end.
Hughes said: “We’d seen off everything quite comfortably and had chances to put the game to bed.
“We’re disappointed because performance wise it was significantly better than we’ve been able to produce in recent weeks but I think we all felt the referee played a part in allowing them to get something out of the game, which I didn’t think they really deserved.”