Simon Grayson's defensive options for the draw with QPR were hit after Lamine Kone missed out through illness and Tyias Browning with a muscle injury.
Marc Wilson, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, wasn't fit for the visit of QPR but Grayson has revealed he is expected back in training in midweek.
The absence of the central defensive trio meant Grayson had to partner Billy Jones with John O'Shea at the heart of Sunderland's defence.
There was brighter news in the forward department with Duncan Watmore starting his first game in 10 months, the forward playing 79 minutes before being withdrawn.
Striker Lewis Grabban also made his return from a hamstring injury as a half-time sub, replacing the ineffective James Vaughan.
On his missing defenders, Grayson said: "Tyias was injured, and Lamine pulled out sick overnight. Just when you think you’ve got a full complement available, we were down to the bare bones defensively.
"The lads showed a lot of character. We’ve not won it, but we’ve not got beat. That’s a small step, and hopefully the small steps that we’re taking at this moment in time will help lead to bigger ones in the next few weeks.
“Tyias got a muscle injury on Tuesday. It’s nothing major, but it ruled him out. Hopefully, he’ll be fit for next week.
"Wilson will hopefully join in with training in the middle of next week. He’s been out for a bit of time. Lamine was ill. It was difficult. I thought Billy did a decent job at centre-half, but it’s not ideal when you don’t have many defenders.
"There were positives with players coming back. I couldn’t start the team I really wanted to start because of injuries and individuals coming back in training, but ultimately we showed some character and got something out of it."
Watmore made his return as a sub in the 2-2 draw with Preston North End before the international break and was rewarded with his first start in almost a year against Ian Holloway's QPR side.
Grayson added: "It’s a massive step for him, getting 75 minutes.
"We thought long and hard this week about whether to start him, and he was good. I asked him whether he wanted to start, and his answer was yes.
"We still have to manage him carefully over the next few weeks and months, but it’s another step in the right direction. When we have strength in depth at the top end of the pitch, it can help us."