THE RELEGATION dogfight really is a ringer for the emotions.
A point away from home, on the back of a display bursting with determination and commitment, would not ordinarily be a cause for complaint, even if the chances came and went to take victory.
On the back of a team-sheet which didn’t inspire confidence, particularly when you glanced at the bench, few would have begrudged such a result beforehand.
But the wins elsewhere for Leicester and Hull, which sent Sunderland plummetting into the bottom three for only the second time this season, only heightened that nauseous feeling about this being the year when the Black Cats can’t quite save their necks.
It reinforced the need Sunderland have for victories, not draws.
Solitary point returns are not much good at this stage.
After all, that bumper haul of 15 draws is why Sunderland are where they are.
But amidst the doom-mongering which falling into the relegation zone will prompt this week, there has to be a sense of perspective, albeit that is often difficult at this time of year, particularly after a season when Sunderland have mastered the art of letting everyone down.
Sunderland are not relegated yet.
Far from it. There are 15 more points on offer, even if the last two games offer little prospect of picking up many.
Was there an improvement at the Britannia? Yes.
Were the commitment and desire which were questionable (to put it politely) against Crystal Palace better? Yes.
Sunderland scrapped and battled in the second half in a manner which hasn’t been apparent enough this season – the much maligned Sebastian Coates, in particular, justifying his inclusion with a series of superb blocks.
The will-to-win was there in abundance and would have culminated in victory, had Connor Wickham, Jermain Defoe and Billy Jones taken the chances which came their way after the break, albeit the latter was denied by a magnificent block from Asmir Begovic.
Don’t overlook either that this could have been much worse for Sunderland.
Costel Pantilimon needed to produce two stunning - and they were genuinely stunning - saves in the second half to keep out Mame Diouf from point-blank range and deny Charlie Adam a second.
After Adam equalised, moments after Defoe had wasted a golden chance to double Sunderland’s advantage, Stoke were well on top too and looked like they would go on to complete a turnaround.
Adam and Stephen Ireland utterly controlled proceedings in the middle of the park, with Jack Rodwell, particularly coming a distinct second best in his attempts to combat the pair.
But Advocaat changed his system to a 4-3-3, from an orthodox 4-4-2, at the interval and it prompted a more sedate tempo which suited Sunderland and they duly enjoyed their best spell of the game.
If only, that had culminated in victory.
Yet this season has seen far too many ‘if onlys’.
This needs to be a point which proves to be the start of things for Sunderland.
Now Sunderland are down among the dead men, there really is no more room for error.