By Ian Chadband
Jermain Defoe was again the toast of Sunderland on Saturday after his winner in a 3-2 victory over Chelsea lifted them out of the relegation zone, leaving Newcastle United and Norwich City on the verge of the drop.
While champions Leicester City prepared for a huge party at the King Power Stadium, where they were receiving the Premier League trophy after their late match with Everton, all eyes were on the desperate scrap for survival at the other end of the table.
It was Sunderland’s fans who were left enjoying a party of their own at the Stadium of Light as Defoe scored his 15th league goal of the season to lead a stunning comeback victory against Chelsea who had captain John Terry sent off in added time for a second bookable offence.
With Norwich losing 1-0 at home to Manchester United and Newcastle only able to come away with a goalless draw at doomed Aston Villa, the victory means Sunderland, with two games remaining, will be safe if they beat Everton on Wednesday.
Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle, who are a point behind north-east neighbours Sunderland in 18th place despite having played a game more, would then be relegated along with Norwich who are 19th and have two matches left but remain three points behind the Magpies.
United’s win at Norwich, courtesy of Juan Mata’s fifth goal against the Canaries, leaves them in fifth place, one point behind neighbours Manchester City who occupy the fourth Champions League qualification spot and face fellow contenders Arsenal on Sunday.
West Ham United’s push to play Champions League football in their first season in the Olympic Stadium looked bleak following their surprising 4-1 hammering by Swansea City in their final Saturday afternoon game at the Boleyn Ground.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce was again full of praise for his England marksman Defoe after a victory which he felt had demonstrated the depth of his side’s character.
“You give Jermain Defoe a chance and generally he at least hits the target. We’ve crawled out of the bottom three by the number of goals he’s scored. Without him, I dread to think where we’d be as a team.
“It’s the first time we’ve come from behind to win a game of football this season and that shows the desire of the players, the quality of the players. The character and determination has shone through.”
Twice Sunderland had to come from behind, first after Diego Costa had put Chelsea ahead and then, following Wahbi Khazri’s equaliser, after Nemanja Matic had put the visitors 2-1 up on the stroke of halftime.
Three minutes after Fabio Borini’s 67th-minute equaliser, Defoe, capitalising on a poor clearance from John Obi Mikel, smashed home the winner.
Terry then received his marching orders deep into injury time for a second bookable foul, a decision that Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink called “a little bit over the top”.
Benitez sounded almost resigned to Newcastle’s fate after their failure to dent a surprisingly resolute Villa rearguard.
“It was an opportunity to stay ahead of Sunderland and we couldn’t do it,” said the Spaniard. “We are disappointed. Sunderland won, so all we can do now is wait for the score of that game (against Everton) and try to win our game.”