ALAN McCormack's first start for North End turned into a nightmare in the 25th minute when he played a part in a disastrous own goal.

It followed confusion between the young Irishman and Tyrone Mears, who was once again playing a central defending role in Preston's depleted squad and he had the final touch before the ball wnet into his own net

Sunderland had been in the ascendency from the start but the own goal was of North End's own making as Sunderland's forward line did not appear to be pressurising either Mears or McCormack.

North End responded in the best way possible pushing forward at every opportunity.

David Healy thrashed a shot just wide on 32 minutes before putting North End on level terms in the 43rd minute.

His goal, set up by a forceful Ricardo Fuller gave North End parity at half time, but they also had to be thankful to Andy Lonergan in goal.

While he had to put up with some Kamikaze defending in front of him he pulled off some fine saves, the best in the 35th minute from a shot from Jason McAteer.

Sunderland were down to ten men in the 60th minute when Whitley was shown the red card for a scything tackle on Richard Cresswell.

It was the home side who took the lead again, however, in the 69th minute when Sunderland substitute Sean Thornton curled a superb free kick round the North End wall and into the top corner of the net under the diving Lonergan.

A flick on from Simon Lynch was saved by Black Cats' keeper Poom but Tyrone Mears equalised from close range 12 minutes from time.

Sunderland went back in front from a Marcus Stewart penalty.

But North End continued to battle and Graham Alexander forced a save from a free kick in the 90th minute. A minute later Eddie Lewis took another free kick from the virtually the identical spot but this time the ball landed in the net to the delight of the travelling fans.

North End had the chance to take all the points in added time but Cresswell fired his shot just wide as a thrilling match ended all square.

Sunderland 3

North End 3

Sunderland: Poom, McCartney, Breen, Babb, Wright, Oster (Thornton 62), Thirlwell, Whitley, McAteer, Kyle (Stewart 71), Tommy Smith (Byfield 71).

Subs not used: Ingham, Williams.

Sent Off: Whitley (60).

Booked: Babb, Thornton.

Preston: Lonergan, Edwards, Michael Jackson, Mears, Lewis, McCormack (Smith 79), Healy, Alexander, Lynch, Fuller, Cresswell.

Subs not used: Lucas, Briscoe, Armstrong, Mark Jackson.


Attendance: 27,181

Referee: P Prosser (Gloucestershire).