Last night their unbeaten home run stretched to a quarter-of-a-century of matches. It stopped short, however, of the victory Sunderland needed to retain pole position in the First Division.
Bristol City pinched a point with the one shot they managed on target in 90 minutes. It was delivered, with two minutes remaining, by the right boot of Soren Andersen. From a range of 20 yards, the City substitute beat his fellow Dane, Thomas Sorensen.
Sunderland's goalkeeper had spent the rest of the evening as just another unemployment statistic on Wearside - unlike his opposite number.
Keith Welch spent two unsuccessful weeks on trial with Sunderland two years ago and his return looked likely to be a less than happy one when he allowed Darren Williams' right-wing cross to slip from his grasp in the 13th minute. It presented Kevin Phillips with the half-chance he duly buried from the edge of City's penalty area.
Welch needed his cross-bar to keep out an even more spectacular volley by Phillips seven minutes later but thwarted Sunderland's goalpoacher in the 24th minute, diving to his right to save a well-struck penalty after Sean Dyche was judged to have felled Daniele Dichio.
Welch continued to redeem himself long into the second-half, saving from Phillips and Allan Johnston at point-blank range. He also had Tom Doherty to thank for denying Phillips and Johnston with goal-line clearances.
It ought to have been a landslide victory for Sunderland. Instead, it was they who slipped.
There were just two minutes left on the clock when Andersen, a 66th- minute substitute for Julian Watts, showed the pedigree of a striker who was on international duty for Denmark in Belarus last weekend.
Peter Reid might have needed a little cheering up afterwards but John Ward was a happy man. "It was a bit of a smash and grab," the City manager said.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Williams, Melville, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Mullin, Ball, Johnston; Phillips, Dichio. Substitutes not used: Smith, Bridges, Craddock.
Bristol City (5-4-1): Welch; Locke, Watts (Andersen, 66), Carey, Dyche, Bell; Murray, Doherty, Hewlett, Tinnion (Goodridge, 80); Akinbiyi. Substitute not used: Cramb.
Referee: D Pugh (The Wirral).Reuse content