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John O'Shea snatched a potentially priceless point for Sunderland as they held Stoke City to a draw despite seeing Craig Gardner sent off after only 35 minutes.
Defeat at the Stadium of Light would have left the Black Cats in a perilous situation just above the relegation zone but, having gone behind to Jonathan Walters' early effort, they showed great heart in the second half with O'Shea prodding home a 63rd-minute corner.
Danny Rose almost stole victory for the hosts 10 minutes from time but his low shot hit the outside of the near post.
As it stands, Sunderland are now level with Norwich City and Newcastle United on 38 points – three ahead of a Wigan Athletic side who have a game in hand.
After a pre-match appearance by members of Sunderland's FA Cup-winning side of 1973 the opening moments yielded little of consequence, although Alfred N'Diaye won warm applause for a couple of firm challenges in midfield.
Indeed, neither side had managed a shot on goal before Walters put the visitors in front in the ninth minute. Ryan Shotton's first long throw of the match played its part, with his delivery earning a corner. Adam took it and when Walters' header was blocked by Danny Graham on the line the Republic of Ireland international reacted quickest to power the loose ball home via the underside of the bar.
Sunderland had a chance to reply quickly when Dean Whitehead conceded a dangerous looking free-kick, but Gardner shot wide and is evening got considerably worse when his studs-up challenge on Adam resulted in his dismissal.
The sending-off led to a reshuffle from Di Canio with Jack Colback filling in at right-back and Adam Johnson withdrawing slightly to the wing. Indeed the England international went closest to producing an equaliser with a free-kick just prior to the break which squirmed wide.
O'Shea almost got on the scoresheet on the hour, prodding goalwards only to see Whitehead block on the line, but the Black Cats captain went one better two minutes later, popping up at the far post to side-foot Sebastian Larsson's corner over the line after Whitehead failed to get a solid connection.
The crowd roared their approval and manager Paolo Di Canio struck an imperious pose, fists clenched and arms out at his sides. The Italian caught the eye moments later too, dashing angrily on to the pitch after the referee halted a Sunderland attack to allow Walters treatment.
Although Stoke appeared reasonably content with a draw chances still appeared, Whitehead striking well from the edge of the area to test Simon Mignolet.
Remarkably Sunderland's 10 men did not appear to tire and Rose was inches away from putting them ahead in the 80th minute with a skidding attempt that struck the outside of the post.
At the other end Nzonzi went closest to winning it for the visitors, hooking a shot over with his back to goal, but there was to be no late drama.
Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio: "The win over Newcastle will go down in the club’s history, but for me, what the players did tonight is 2,000 times bigger than what we did that day. Although we didn’t get the three points, the fight and spirit that I saw in my players and how they remained organised and didn’t lose their brains makes me very happy and very proud.
“When I see my team play like that it makes me confident and that combined with the tremendous atmosphere in the stadium makes tonight a game to remember. We got a point; it was a fantastic effort and a fantastic performance. We now have to look forward to the next game – it is a Champions League Final for us; it's crucial for our destiny. It's hard to say, and it depends on what happens with Wigan tomorrow, but I think that, if we win against Southampton, with our goal difference, we should be OK."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis: "We are pleased that we've got that point. That takes us to 41. There are a lot of teams down there this time around. I'm amazed it isn't sorted out yet. It's one of those funny seasons. It seems to have happened at all levels, not just the Premier League.
"The players are coming with the right attitude. Their spirit was fantastic. When you go down to 10 men, you had to battle away. They had nothing to lose and we had everything to lose.You've got to give Sunderland credit. They displayed a lot of spirit and a lot of togetherness."
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