SUNDERLAND will go into the final week of the season still unsure of their Premier League status after a frustrating stalemate against Leicester.
Defeats elsewhere for relegation rivals Hull and Newcastle extended the gap with the bottom three to three points, yet with Sunderland boasting an inferior goal difference, the Black Cats still need a point from the trips to Arsenal and Chelsea to be mathematically certain of survival.
Sunderland couldn’t find a way through against the resilient Foxes, who are now certain of their place in the top flight for next season.
Seb Larsson went close from a free-kick in the first half, while Danny Graham enjoyed the best spell of the game when he saw his volley saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
But despite huffing and puffing for the goal which would have rubber-stamped their survival in the second half, Sunderland couldn’t find the breakthrough and were forced to settle for an eighth goalless draw of the campaign.
As Dick Advocaat had indicated, Liam Bridcutt and John O’Shea were the two replacements for Jordi Gomez and Wes Brown - both ruled out for the rest of the season through injury.
O’Shea was fit again after missing last weekend’s win at Everton with sore ribs, while Bridcutt made his first start under Advocaat’s tenure.
Emanuele Giaccherini was back on the bench after three months on the sidelines due to surgery on his injured ankle.
Leicester made one change, with midfielder Andy King taking the place of the injured Matty James.
Sunderland started on the front foot and it required an excellent save from Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel to prevent Seb Larsson opening the deadlock in the seventh minute.
Larsson’s inswinging free-kick from the left-hand side of the area dipped awkwardly towards the near post, but Schmeichel got a strong arm to it to palm it away.
Leicester then went close again themselves when Marc Albrighton’s header back across goal just evaded Leonardo Ulloa, before Danny Graham’s effort on the counter-attack from 20 yards out deflected just wide.
Graham had a big chance to open the scoring in the 24th minute when Lee Cattermole lifted a lovely ball over the top of the Leicester defence for the striker, who had beaten the offside trap.
With Schmeichel coming out of his goal, Graham met it on the volley, but didn’t make a clean contact and it was saved by the keeper high to his left.
Wickham thrashed a shot high and wide in the 32nd minute after receiving Graham’s lay-off on the edge of the area from Sebastian Coates’ pinpoint long ball forwards.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Leicester 0
Leicester had looked dangerous from set pieces throughout the first half and that avenue saw them go close again in the 48th minute when Leonardo Ulloa headed Marc Albrighton’s corner wide of the near post.
Sunderland began to regain the ascendancy though, with Patrick van Aanholt angling a shot just wide of the far post from 20 yards out.
Substitute Adam Johnson tested Schmeichel in the 72nd minute when he surged inside off the right flank and hit a shot towards the near post that the Leicester keeper diverted behind.
Fellow substitute Steven Fletcher then flashed a header just wide from Johnson’s inswinging cross with six minutes to go.
Leicester almost nicked it in stoppage time when Costel Pantilimon came racing out of his goal to intercept, only got part of the ball, but when it ran loose to Andrej Kramaric, the Foxes substitute lobbed it high and wide from the edge of the area.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 Leicester 0
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Jones (Reveillere 86), O’Shea, Coates, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson, Bridcutt (Johnson 60), Wickham, Defoe, Graham (Fletcher 80). Subs not used: Mannone, Vergini, Giaccherini, Buckley. Booked: Bridcutt (27), Cattermole (43), Wickham (66), Larsson (79)
LEICESTER: Schmeichel, Wasilewski, Huth, Morgan, Albrighton, Cambiasso, Mahrez (Drinkwater 67), King, Schlupp, Ulloa (Kramaric 74), Vardy. Subs not used: Schwarzer, De Laet, Konchesky, Hammond, Wood. Booked: Huth (63)