Sunderland up to second but left frustrated by Burton Albion after 1-1 draw
The Black Cats were left frustrated in their efforts to secure three crucial points but with a game-in-hand on Barnsley, their promotion fate remains firmly in their own hands.
They missed some crucial openings to seal the win but in truth a point was perhaps what Nigel Clough's side deserved.
It was an open contest in which Sunderland threw everything at the game, but gave up chances to Burton's lively attackers on the break.
Both sides had resisted the urge to tinker with the shape that has brought them good results in recent times, creating a game that was open from the off.
Sunderland started brightly, Dylan McGeouch whipping a cross into the box where Charlie Wyke's header looped onto the roof of the net.
A positive week in the league had left the Black Cats looking confident but Borton have been one of the freer-scoring sides in the division of late and served early notice of their threat.
Marcus Harness was a constant menace cutting in off the left and made an early impression when he fired a cross towards the near post, Liam Boyce turning over the bar.
Opportunities wee coming at a regular interval, Will Grigg going close as he turned away from his marker from a throw in, driving to the edge of the box and forcing a good save from Bradley Collins, the Burton keeper getting down to block with his legs.
Harness had another opening moments later as cut into the box, his effort straight at Jon McLaughlin.
He forced the opening goal before long but it was a self-inflicted blow as far as the hosts were concerned.
Dylan McGeouch looked in little danger as he drove towards the halfway line, but a heavy touch allowed Jamie Allen to steal the ball. He broke into space and found Harness, whose cross was deflected into the top corner by Tom Flanagan.
Sunderland looked to be struggling, Burton finding vast swathes of space to attack whenever they recovered the ball.
Nevertheless, their lead lasted just ten minutes.
Lewis Morgan won a corner on the right and Grant Leadbitter dropped it into a dangerous area, Jack Baldwin doing superbly to get in front of his marker and place a header into the far corner.
McGeouch, now struggling with injury, was replaced by Max Power and the substitute immediately brought some drive to the midfield.
Though it remained a tight contest, it was the Black Cats who forged the best chances before the break.
Charlie Wyke ought to have scored when the away defence missed a routine low cross into the box, Wyke stabbing his effort straight at Collins from a matter of yards, seemingly caught out in surprise that the ball had arrived in the first place.
He went close again just moments before the interval, when Bryan Oviedo cut inside and played a good cross to the back post. Wyke had peeled away from his marker well but the ball was just out of his reach, his volley finding the side netting.
Their start to the second half was far more sluggish and they were exceptionally fortunate to avoid going behind.
Flanagan was caught in possession as he dribbled out of his own box, and Jon McLaughlin did well to block Liam Boyce's effort after Harness had teed him up.
Boyce went close again when this time he was able to dink an effort over McLaughlin, but Baldwin recovered to thump off the line.
Sunderland were struggling for control but were inches from taking the lead just after the hour.
A good spell of pressure saw some promising crosses just clear, and the ball fell for Grant Leadbitter on the edge of the area. His dinked pass over the top was superb, and Wyke's connection on the turn was superb, his clean volley rattling the bar before going over.
That move lifted the home side and they began to build pressure, Burton looking increasingly leggy.
Substitute Kazaiah Sterling brought some welcome pace to the forward line and missed a good chance after making a clever run inside the centre back, collecting a pass from George Honeyman but slicing his eventual effort way over the bar.
Leadbitter than rattled the post with a moment of individual brilliance, taking one touch on the edge of the area to escape his marker than firing a half volley on his weaker foot.
Burton looked to be wilting, but another error in possession from Flanagan allowed them to break and McLaughlin had to be sharp to make a superb block from Harness as he raced in on goal.
Jack Ross had thrown everything into securing the three points, Benji Kimpioka finishing the game on the left wing.
But Burton were able to hold out and claim a point from a frenetic encounter.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin, O'Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, Oviedo; Honeyman, McGeouch (Power, 29), Leadbitter, Morgan (Kimpioka, 81); Wyke, Grigg (Sterling, 67)
Subs: Ruiter, Ozturk, Hume, Dunne
Burton Albion XI: Collins; Brayford, Buxton (McCrory, 90), McFadzean, Daniel; Quinn, Allen, Fraser (Wallace, 86), Harness (Fox, 77) ; Akins, Boyce
Subs: Bywater, Bradley, Hutchinson, Clarke
Bookings: Fox, 85