John O'Shea in the wars as Sunderland secure priceless point in relegation dogfight
A turbulent few days for Sunderland ended with them claiming a point towards their Barclays Premier League survival bid but also dropping into the relegation zone as they drew 1-1 with Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.
The Black Cats were in front within the opening few seconds when Connor Wickham pounced on an error by Potters goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Stoke deservedly equalised in the 27th minute as Charlie Adam continued his recent goalscoring heroics by cracking home an unstoppable shot, moments after Jermain Defoe had spurned a fine chance for the visitors.
There were decent opportunities for either side to win the match after the break, but it finished with honours even, with Costel Pantilimon diving to keep out another Adam strike at the end.
While the result takes Sunderland to 30 points with five games remaining, they have fallen from 16th, a point clear of the drop zone, to 18th, a point adrift of safety, with both Hull and Leicester leapfrogging them after winning their fixtures on Saturday. Stoke, meanwhile, remain ninth.
The build-up to the game had certainly been far from ideal for the Wearside outfit, with midfielder Adam Johnson on Thursday being charged with three offences of sexual activity with a child under 16 and one of grooming.
But - with Johnson absent from their matchday 18 - the contest began as well for Sunderland as they could have imagined as they grabbed the lead inside a minute.
Begovic fumbled horribly as he tried to collect a Will Buckley cross and Wickham took full advantage, prodding in from close range.
Stoke responded strongly, with Adam sending a swerving shot into Pantilimon before having penalty appeals turned down when he went down under the attentions of Buckley.
Pantilimon then got down low to palm away a Jonathan Walters shot and saw a Stephen Ireland volley deflect wide.
Sunderland had mustered little since their goal, but in the 25th minute they might have extended their lead as a long ball that was not dealt with by Philipp Wollscheid put Defoe through on goal.
The striker could only fire into the side-netting, though, and moments later his profligacy was punished as Adam drew things level with his third goal in four games. Neat play between Walters and Marko Arnautovic saw the latter turn nicely and tee up Adam, who rifled the ball into the top corner.
Stoke continued to pressurise, with Ryan Shawcross heading over, Arnautovic bending a shot into the arms of Pantilimon and Adam trying for another spectacular effort that went too high.
The Potters were putting together some nice passing moves, particularly getting joy down the left flank, and their opponents looked relieved to hear the whistle for half-time.
Sunderland - with John O'Shea playing on despite taking a boot in the face from Wollscheid just prior to the interval, but Danny Graham on for Buckley - did their best to create some momentum at the start of the second period, Jordi Gomez shooting to Begovic and the goalkeeper then turning a Defoe attempt behind.
The sleeping Wollscheid was subsequently robbed of possession and Wickham burst through, but a great Shawcross block denied him.
And soon after, another decent chance went begging for the visitors as Billy Jones found space in the area but his shot deflected wide.
The visitors then survived a scare when Pantilimon did superbly to to divert over a Mame Biram Diouf strike after the frontman chested down Adam's free-kick.
Peter Crouch came on for Stoke and saw a Sunderland shirt get in the way of his goalbound effort, before Arnautovic struck wide.
Crouch's team-mate Peter Odemwingie, recovered from his long-term knee injury, was introduced with 10 minutes to go for his first appearance since August.
And with only three minutes of normal time remaining, Pantilimon preserved a point for his side by diving to tip away Adam's drive.