A late equaliser by Kenwyne Jones saw Sunderland grab a valuable point in their northeast derby battle with fellow strugglers Middlesbrough.
But they were thwarted when Trinidad and Tobago international Jones connected with David Healy's cross to cancel out Afonso Alves's first-half strike with eight minutes to play.
Ricky Sbragia's men could easily have gone on to claim all three points but Jones's international team-mate, Carlos Edwards, saw his effort cleared off the line by Adam Johnson with just over two minutes left.
Stewart Downing, the England winger who has asked for a transfer, was included in Boro's starting line-up and he was given a surprisingly warm reception by the home supporters.
Turkish forward Tuncay Sanli and former Sunderland star Julio Arca, both of whom had been rested for last week's FA Cup win over non-league Barrow, were also in Gareth Southgate's starting XI.
Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia made one change to the team which dumped Bolton out of the FA Cup last week, French midfielder Steed Malbranque coming in for Edwards.
It was Sunderland who looked the slicker side early on but the visitors lacked penetration and Malbranque earned himself a one-match ban when he received his fifth caution of the season for a late challenge on Josh Walker.
Downing was the first player on either side to produce a shot on target, although his effort from 30 yards never threatened to beat Marton Fulop.
Sunderland's first clear chance fell to Djibril Cisse, who was thwarted by a fine block from Chris Riggott.
Tuncay fired narrowly over midway through the opening period but Sunderland continued to dominate and Cisse should at least have hit the target after an inviting cross from Danny Collins.
At the other end, Arca fired narrowly wide after a neat lay-off from Alves and it was the Brazilian who finally broke the dealock in the final minute of the opening period.
After exchanging passes with Downing, the Brazilian claimed his third goal in two games with a powerful right-foot drive past Fulop.
Neither side managed to generate any clear chances before Sbragia decided to send Healy on for Kieran Richardson with 10 minutes left.
Two minute later, Andy Reid sent the Northern Ireland forward clear on the right and he delivered a perfect cross for Jones to sidefoot home.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Turnbull, McMahon, Riggott, Wheater, Pogatetz, Digard (Bates 65min), Walker (Johnson 47min), Arca, Downing, Tuncay, Alves (Mido 86min)
SUNDERLAND: Fulop, Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins, Malbranque (Edwards 54min), Whitehead, Richardson (Healy 80min), Diouf (Reid 67min), Cisse, Jones