John O'Shea snatched a potentially priceless point for Sunderland as they held Stoke to a 1-1 draw despite seeing Craig Gardner sent off after only 34 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 and deserved to see O'Shea prod home a 63rd-minute corner.
Gardner can take little credit for the result, though, and his red card for a dangerous challenge on Charlie Adam was fully warranted.
Neither side had managed a shot on goal before Walters put the visitors in front in the ninth minute. Walters' header from Adam's corner was blocked by Danny Graham on the line but the Republic of Ireland international reacted quickest to power the loose ball home via the underside of the bar.
Adam Johnson was Sunderland's best attacking outlet but he was struggling for support.
Sunderland's task became even harder when Adam's charge down the right flank was ended by a dangerous studs-up challenge from Gardner, but Stoke did not overdo attempts to punish their opponents' numerical disadvantage.
Johnson went close to producing an equaliser with a free-kick just prior to the break but it squirmed wide and O'Shea almost got on the scoresheet on the hour, prodding goalwards only to see Dean Whitehead block on the line.
And the captain went one better two minutes later, popping up at the far post to side-foot Seb Larsson's corner over the line after Whitehead failed to get a solid connection.
Remarkably Sunderland's 10 men did not appear to tire and Danny Rose was inches away from putting them ahead in the 80th minute with a skidding attempt that struck the the post.
Steven Nzonzi went closest to winning it for the visitors, hooking a shot over with his back to goal.