West Ham, who are unbeaten on their travels so far this season, were outplayed for long periods, but somehow forced an equaliser when the excellent Yossi Benayoun took advantage of a kind ricochet off Tommy Miller to skip past Steve Caldwell and slot the ball past the outstretched hand of Kelvin Davis.
That goal, as their manager Alan Pardew admitted, came against the run of play as, time and time again, Sunderland stretched the visiting defence to the verge of breaking point.
Yet, stretched as West Ham may have been, the Black Cats still only had Miller's bundled effort in first-half stoppage time, the midfielder pouncing after Liam Lawrence's cutback had been blocked, to show for their dominance.
While this is considered two points lost on Wearside, it will be viewed as a point gained in east London. "We have had our bottoms bitten by Sunderland," Pardew conceded. "They knocked us out of our stride and the last team to do that was Sunderland when they beat us at our place at the end of last season.
"There is a gap between the Championship and the Premiership, but we have both tried to bridge it with the players we have signed in the summer"
For Mick McCarthy, whose side also had a goal ruled out by referee, Martin Atkinson, for an innocuous push by Caldwell, it was the second home game in a row he has had to watch Sunderland throw away victory following the 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion. But at least the point was enough to lift them out of the relegation zone.
McCarthy said: "We have done enough to win the game and we're gutted we haven't. But nobody said this was going to be easy.
"We've got another point and it's another point towards safety. All we've got to do is finish above three sides this season."
Goals: Miller (45) 1-0; Benayoun (72) 1-1.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell, Hoyte; Whitehead, Miller, Bassila (Lawrence, 36), Welsh (D Murphy, 88); Gray, Elliott. Substitutes not used: J Murphy (gk), Collins, Le Tallec.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Carroll; Repka (Dailly, 68), Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Benayoun, Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington (Newton, 68); Sheringham (Zamora, 62), Harewood. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Bellion.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Booked: Sunderland Caldwell; West Ham United Gabbidon, Konchesky, Benayoun, Reo-Coker.
Man of the match: Benayoun.
Attendance: 31,212.Reuse content