Steve Bruce's men leave it late but finally ease the pressure after earlier goals by Zenden and Klasnic had seen the teams level with just minutes to play
A late Sulley Muntari strike earned Sunderland a crucial 2-1 victory over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium to secure the Black Cats' Premier League status for another season.
The visitors took the lead in stoppage time at the end of the first half through Bolo Zenden but were unable to hold onto their lead and Klasnic struck in the 87th minute. However Muntari struck the winner in added time to relieve the pressure around the Stadium of Light.
Owen Coyle rang the changes for Bolton, making five changes from the side who were beaten at Blackburn. Jussi Jaaskelainen replaced Adam Bogdan in goal, Gretar Steinsson came into full-back in place of David Wheater and Tamir Cohen dropped to the bench with Fabrice Muamba starting in midfield. Chung Yong-Lee replaced Rodrigo and Daniel Sturridge returned to the side in place of Ricardo Gardner.
Sunderland made three changes to the side that were beaten by Fulham but Steve Bruce was still without any recognised strikers in his starting line-up. John Mensah and Anton Ferdinand were recalled to the team along with Bolo Zenden as Lee Cattermole, Sulley Muntari and Michael Turner were all replaced. Muntari dropped to the bench but Cattermole and Turner were not available at all, young striker Ryan Noble returned to the bench to give a striking option if needed.
Both teams took their time to get going in this match and the first real chance of the game didn’t come until the 12th minute as a low cross was controlled by Kevin Davies on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area, he flicked the ball into the path of Taylor but his low shot was well saved by Mignolet.
The game was being played at a rather pedestrian pace with neither side really dominating possession and neither goalkeeper being seriously tested. Johan Elmander, playing in central midfield for Bolton, had a good chance in the 22nd minute but his long range low free-kick sailed harmlessly wide of Mignolet’s goal.
Sunderland’s first chance came two minutes later and it was by far the best chance of the game so far, a right wing free-kick from Jordan Henderson was met by the unmarked Phil Bardsley at the front post but the full back headed over the bar from five yards.
The game was slowly coming to life and three minutes later Sturridge had his first chance of the match, Kevin Davies was unable to get on the end of a long ball upfield from Gary Cahill but the ball bounced through to Sturridge but his attempt was easily saved by Mignolet
After such a slow start amazingly another chance came moments later and this time for the visitors. A long ball from Jack Colback released Bolo Zenden, the Dutchman composed himself inside the penalty area and fired a left foot strike towards the far corner but Jaaskelainen saved and was able to pounce on the loose ball.
The enigmatic Sturridge had hardly been in the game at this point but he sprung into life with six minutes of the half remaining. Mignolet punched a corner away but Zenden was unable to control the ball on the edge of the area, the loose ball fell to Knight who rolled the ball to the unmarked Sturridge on the right side of the penalty area. His left foot shot deflected off the head of Bardsley and crashed against the crossbar, but Bolton were unable to put the ball in from the melee that followed.
The home side had another chance in the final minute of the half – a long range Taylor strike fumbled by Mignolet, Sturridge tried to get on the loose ball but Ferdinand made a crucial interception to deny the striker.
However with pretty much the last kick of the half it was Sunderland who took the lead through their captain Zenden. The Dutchman was released behind the Bolton defence by a Sessegnon through ball, he rounded Jaaskelainen and slid the ball home much to the complaints of the home side. They were looking for an offside but the replays appeared to show the midfielder was onside when the ball was played and he did well to give his side the lead.
Sessegnon had the first chance of the second half as the visitors were clearly lifted by their late first half opener. The Benin international outpaced substitute Ricardo Gardner, who had replaced Muamba at half-time, but Jaaskelainen was able to push his low shot away from goal.
Minutes later Gardner was then at the heart of Bolton’s first opportunity of the match, he surged from midfield unchallenged before playing the ball into Sturridge but the striker’s shot was inches wide of the post.
Another good chance fell to the hosts as they started to put a little bit of pressure on the Sunderland defence. After a great run by Taylor, Sturridge saw a shot blocked by Bardsley yards from goal and when the loose ball dropped to Lee he volleyed over with the goal at his mercy.
Bolton finally got back into the game with a strike from substitute Ivan Klasnic in the 87th minute, the Croat got on the end of fellow substitute Rodrigo’s cross to head past Mignolet and level the scores with just minutes remaining.
But the drama was far from over as Sessegnon played substitute Muntari in and the midfielder rolled the ball underneath Jaaskelainen to seal the points for his side in added time and secure a vital victory.
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