JOHN O’SHEA rescued a point for 10-man Sunderland after pegging back relegation rivals Stoke City.
The skipper grabbed what could be a prescious equaliser in the fight for Premier League survival, with only his second Sunderland goal providing just rewards for a dogged second half display from the Black Cats.
It followed a horror show in the opening 45 minutes from Paolo Di Canio’s side, as Stoke took an early lead through Jon Walters before Craig Gardner was handed a straight red card - ruling the Brummie out of the final two games of the campaign.
But Sunderland were vastly improved in the second half and after drawing level, could have even won it, with Danny Rose’s shot hitting the woodwork.
Di Canio made two changes to the starting line-up, with Jack Colback included on the left flank at the expense of Phil Bardsley and Craig Gardner dropping to right-back.
The other inclusion was more predictable, with James McClean replacing the suspended Stephane Sessegnon - a change that saw the Ireland international come in on the right, Seb Larsson move to the middle and Adam Johnson occupy the slot in the hole behind Danny Graham.
Stoke also made two changes, with Mark Wilson and former Sunderland skipper Dean Whitehead coming in for injured duo Glenn Whelan and Andy Wilkinson.
After a scrappy start, it was the Potters who drew first blood in the ninth minute when Walters was able to meet Charlie Adam’s corner with a free header four yards out.
Walters’ initial effort crashed off Graham, but the Ireland international pounced on the rebound to smash it high into the net.
Four minutes later, Gardner blasted a free-kick a yard wide of the woodwork from 25 yards out.
Sunderland’s task became even harder in the 33rd minute when they reduced to 10 men after Gardner mindlessly lunged into Adam right in front of referee Lee Mason.
Stoke had a chance to double their advantage in first half stoppage time when Adam drifted in a perfectly-weighted ball into the area from the left-hand touchline, just inside Sunderland’s half.
The Scot picked out Cameron Jerome, unmarked 12 yards out, but the striker could only guide his header wide of the mark.
Moments later, Johnson went close with a free-kick from 30 yards which curled just wide of the far post.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Stoke 1
Sunderland produced their first effort on target in the 55th minute Johnson slalomed inside off the right wing and struck a left-footed shot from the edge of the area which was straight at Asmir Begovic.
Four minutes later, Stoke wasted a spurned opportunity when Adam squared the ball back from the left-hand by-line to Jerome, 10 yards out, but the striker’s shot was blocked in the goalmouth by the head of John O’Shea.
Moments later, O’Shea almost found the net at the other end, but his scuffed shot to Carlos Cuellar’s knock-down from Seb Larsson’s corner was cleared off the line by Whitehead.
Stoke broke immediately and Steven N’Zonzi drew a full-length save out of Mignolet with a sweetly-struck left-footed effort from 25 yards.
But in the 63rd minute, Sunderland drew level when Larsson curled in a corner from the left which was inadvertantly flicked on at the near post by Whitehead.
O’Shea managed to control his shot at the far post to tuck it beyond Begovic from three yards out.
The woodwork denied Danny Rose in the 80th minute when the left-back collected Graham’s lay-off, surged along the edge of the area and hit a right-footed shot which crashed against the outside of the near post and wide.
Sunderland had a let-off with four minutes to go when Matthew Etherington’s corner bounced to N’Zonzi, with his back to goal, six yards out, but the midfielder could only hook the ball over the top.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 1 Stoke 1
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Colback, Cuellar, O’Shea, Rose, Larsson (Vaughan 86), N’Diaye, Gardner, McClean, Johnson (Bardsley 90), Graham. Subs not used: Westwood, Kilgallon, Mangane, Marrs, Mandron. Booked: Cuellar (32). Sent off: Gardner (33)
STOKE: Begovic, Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson (Cameron 46), Adam (Etherington 83), N’Zonzi, Whitehead, Walters, Jerome, Crouch (Jones 90). Subs not used: Sorensen, Owen, Kightly, Palacios. Booked: Whitehead (12), N’Zonzi (44)