If finding a proven scorer is indeed the vital difference whatever a side's Premier League mission, Wigan Athletic might just have the key to their particular door in the shape of Amr Zaki.
Four months on from the club's brush with relegation, the Egyptian striker plundered a late equaliser to maintain the flow of goals that has been one of the talking points of the season's opening month.
Zaki, on loan for the year from Cairo-based Zamalek, has already made five entries on the scoresheet in English football – a figure no Wigan player reached last season until mid-December.
Saturday's goal came during an afternoon on which he had barely had a look-in until sending a free header against the outside of the post shortly before he secured the first home point either Wigan or Sunderland have managed in 2008-09.
The 25-year-old, twice an African Cup of Nations winner with Egypt and currently his country's footballer of the year, said on Saturday: "I intended to do well from the start and prove myself. This [weather] is quite cold for me but hopefully I will adapt and training will help."
A contest lacking in quality did little to support the widely-held theory that these two clubs might avoid a scramble for safety this time round.
Sunderland often looked the likelier winners because they comfortably defended the early lead presented to them by Titus Bramble.
But even after Lee Cattermole had been sent off near the end for a second booking, Wigan were pushing hardest for victory, their sustained attacking belatedly carrying some potency.
Nevertheless, their manager Steve Bruce admitted he perhaps should have rested the more jaded of his international players despite the 5-0 win against Hull City that preceded their travels.
For Roy Keane, who revealed that talks over a contract extension have just begun with Sunderland's board, a point was a satisfactory return. Following the second-half collapse of his defence against Manchester City, this was a more compact showing. Encouragement came in the form of Anton Ferdinand's debut performance and of the steady return at left-back of the re-signed George McCartney.
"I am always going to be disappointed when we let in a goal because we want to keep clean sheets," Ferdinand said. "But the competition at Sunderland is very healthy and that is the key to a winning team. It never looked like we were a new back four."
Goals: Bramble (og 14) 1-0; Zaki (78) 1-1.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; Valencia, Palacios (Kapo, 64), Cattermole, Kilbane (Koumas, 56); Heskey, Zaki (Scharner, 90). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Brown, De Ridder, Camara.
Sunderland (4-1-3-2): Gordon; Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, McCartney; Tainio; Malbranque (Murphy, 76), Whitehead, Richardson; Cissé, Diouf. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Bardsley, Collins, Leadbitter, Reid, Healy.
Booked: Wigan Cattermole; Sunderland Diouf.
Sent off: Cattermole.
Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).
Man of the match: Figueroa.