Just when Cardiff City’s supporters thought it could not get any worse, Jack Colback struck in injury-time to deny the hosts a win. Football’s wonderful sense of irony saw crisis club Cardiff produce their best performance for more than a month just 24 hours after their manager Malky Mackay was sacked.
There has been precious little festive cheer at Cardiff City Stadium and goals from Jordon Mutch and Fraizer Campbell offered a glimmer of optimism before Steven Fletcher and Colback struck late.
At least Cardiff's display of courage and ability with their backs against the wall, could yet convince former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, now manager at Molde in Norway, to come to Wales instead.
Cardiff's chairman Mehmet Dalman, who assisted in the Glazer family's takeover at Old Trafford, revealed that the club have just one target for the job.
Dalman, said: "I spoke to him [Solskjaer] many a time in the old days. I have not made an offer to anybody but that does not mean that I have not had discussions. I have only one candidate in mind." Assistant manager David Kerslake will remain in charge for the next game, against Arsenal on New Year's Day.
He said: "The players are devastated in the dressing room. We got ourselves in a fabulous position after blowing Sunderland away in the first 35 minutes and we should have seen the game out."
In contrast, a draw saw Sunderland stretch their unbeaten run to five games to fuel optimism despite ending 2013 at the foot of the table.
Manager Gus Poyet said: "We started badly but there was only one team in the game for the last 25 minutes. We showed character and desire. It was just whether we could score the first goal in time to get the second but we fought to the death."
However, there was concern for midfielder Fabio Borini, who remained in Cardiff overnight, having been taken to hospital after collapsing in the dressing room at half-time.Poyet said: "We were worried because he felt very sick. He wanted to play but it was clear at half-time that it was impossible for him to carry on and the doctor took him to hospital but he is feeling better."
Solskjaer's former mentor Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to hold the key to a possible move given he is a close friend of Mackay and will have little praise for Cardiff's Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.
The passing of Christmas brought an end to the pantomime at Cardiff City, though it was far from a happy ending for Mackay, who was sacked on Friday. Yet once the scale of the fissure between club owner and manager became clear, there was only one inevitable outcome.
However, the response of Cardiff's players was emphatic as Peter Whittingham and Craig Noone, who terrorised Andrea Dossena on the right flank, provided the ammunition.
Mutch was booked after 55 seconds for diving inside the penalty area but was far more convincing from the same spot just five minutes later. Campbell pinched Valentin Roberge's pocket and Mutch rifled home. The early goal brought a broad smile and two thumbs up from the club owner in the director's box and the "Tan Out" banners were not so obvious.
Cardiff hit their straps, fuelled by the emotional energy of the occasion and urged on by supporters still chanting Mackay's name. Sunderland once again had Vito Mannone to thank for a series of fine saves.
Mutch proved the catalyst to Cardiff's second when he drove into the area, sucking in defenders, before his pass handed Campbell an easy tap-in after 58 minutes. But Cardiff paid the price for sitting back on their two-goal lead as Sunderland finally awoke from their slumber after Poyet turned to his bench.
Fletcher found a yard of space to volley home Emanuele Giaccherini's cross in the 83rd minute before Colback added the final touch to a frantic finale for a dramatic draw.
Cardiff (4-5-1): Marshall; John, Caulker, Turner, Theophile-Catherine; Medel, Whittingham, Kim (Gunnarsson 78), Mutch, Noone (Cowie, 70); Campbell (Cornelius, 81)
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mannone; Bardsley, Dossena, Roberge, Diakite; Cattermole (Colback, 74), Larsson (Gardner, 74), Ki Giaccherini; Borini (Fletcher h-t), Altidore..
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Mutch (Cardiff)
Match rating: 7/10