JACK RODWELL grabbed a priceless equaliser for Sunderland after a rollercoaster relegation clash at Hull City.
Rodwell, back in the side after a month on the treatment table, headed home his third Sunderland goal to a secure a late point at fellow strugglers Hull, in a game where the Black Cats were awful for an hour, saw Gus Poyet sent to the stands, yet still managed to come away with something for their efforts.
Sunderland were utterly woeful in the first half and fell behind when some slapstick defending from a set piece allowed Dame N’Doye to give the Tigers the advantage.
A frustrated Poyet was dismisssed before the interval, and was involved in a ugly touchline spat with Steve Bruce, when the ex-Sunderland manager had to be restrained.
Sunderland were slightly improved in the second half, but it wasn’t until the final half-hour where they really came to life, with Rodwell heading home substitute Patrick van Aanholt’s cross.
It took a stunning stop from Costel Pantilimon to keep Sunderland level, before Rodwell sent a volley just over the top in the dying stages.
Poyet named four central midielders in his starting XI, as the Sunderland boss made good on his promise to name a side of battlers.
Without the services of Adam Johnson - suspended by the club pending an ongoing police investigation - and Ricky Alvarez only fit enough for a place on the bench, Liam Bridcutt and fit-again Jack Rodwell came into midfield, with Bridcutt partnering Lee Cattermole in the middle of the park, Seb Larsson moving to the right and Rodwell tucked inside from the left.
Santiago Vergini and Danny Graham were also included, at the expense of Connor Wickham and Patrick van Aanholt, while Wes Brown started the game after the centre-half was successful in the appeal his against red card at Manchester United.
Ex-Sunderland trio Paul McShane, David Meyler and Ahmed Elmohamady all started for Hull.
Sunderland actually began the game in a positive fashion, with both Rodwell and Larsson given licence to push high up the field in behind Graham and Jermain Defoe.
Hull striker Nikica Jelavic, back in the side after a knee problem, thrashed a shot high and wide of the near post in the sixth minute, following a clever low pass from David Meyler which picked the Croatian out on the edge of the box.
But Hull did take the lead in the 15th minute after Sunderland paid the price for Brown conceding a free-kick on the edge of the area, to the right of goal.
Tom Huddlestone simply blasted it into the crowded box and Dame N’Doye got away from Vergini, before guiding the ball into the far corner from six yards out.
Sunderland’s response was powder-puff - the Black Cats persistently going sideways and backwards or surrendering possession under pressure from the Tigers.
Jack Rodwell was booked nine minutes before the interval for simulation when he went down on the edge of the box after knocking the ball past Alex Bruce.
Poyet was incensed by the decision and kicked over a water bucket, which saw him sent to the stands by referee Mike Dean.
But on his way off Poyet went over to Steve Bruce in the opposite dug-out, sarcastically applauded, said something to the Hull boss, who had to be restrained by the linesman as the Sunderland head coach walked down the tunnel.
HALF-TIME Hull 1 Sunderland 0
Sunderland had a let-off two minutes after the restart when Meyler got free down the left and stood a cross up to the far post.
N’Doye brought it down on his chest and dinked it past Costel Pantilimon, only for John O’Shea to boot it clear off the line.
Sunderland finally caused a threat in the 57th minute when Larsson took a left wing corner short to Bridcutt, who crossed and O’Shea saw his header deflected just wide of the post.
Cattermole was booked on the hour mark for petulantly kicking out at Meyler - earning the midfielder a 10th yellow card of the season and a subsequent two-match ban.
Rodwell then tried his luck with an ambitious shot from 30 yards which deflected awkwardly off McShane, but went straight at Allan McGregor.
Hull still looked the more dangerous side though - the impressive Andy Robertson firing a right-footed shot just over the top from the edge of the box.
Sunderland were throwing men forward and that left them vulnerable on the counter-attack - Jake Livermore sending a low shot straight at Pantilimon in the 74th minute after Elmohamady burst down the right.
Moments later, Sunderland substitute Wickham looped the ball to Defoe, whose left-footed volley from the edge of the area was straight at McGregor.
But the equaliser did arrive in the 77th minute when substitue van Aanholt got to the left-hand by-line and sent in a superb cross which was looping in, although Rodwell made sure by heading home from point-blank range.
Hull came close to regaining the lead within two minutes when Elmohamady got to the right-hand lane and sent in a pinpoint cross which was met by N’Doye at point-blank range, but his header was magnificently saved by Pantilimon.
Rodwell went close to a second goal with two minutes to go when van Aanholt sent in a superb cross from the left.
The ex-Manchester City midfielder burst onto it and met it flush on the volley with his right foot, but it cleared the crossbar by a yard.
FULL-TIME Hull 1 Sunderland 1
HULL: McGregor, Bruce, Meyler, Huddlestone, Livermore, McShane, Jelavic (Hernandez 73), Dawson, Robertson, Elmohamady, N’Doye. Subs not used: Harper, Figueroa, Davies, Aluko, Ramirez, Quinn. Booked: McShane (41).
SUNDERLAND Pantilimon, Bridcutt, Brown, Cattermole (Alvarez 62), Larsson, Rodwell, Reveillere, O’Shea, Graham (Wickham 73), Vergini (van Aanholt 73), Defoe. Subs not used: Mannone, Fletcher, Gomez, Coates. Booked: Brown (13), Rodwell (36), Bridcutt (46), Cattermole (60), Larsson (79), Alvarez (87)
Referee: Mike Dean