It fell, somewhat appropriately, however, to one of the locals to have the final say in this historic parochial scrap. Ravanelli's 52nd-minute goal, his 11th as a Middlesbrough player, put Boro in a winning position after a questionable Alex Rae penalty equalised Emerson's opener. But just after the hour Craig Russell, from nearby South Shields, salvaged a point for the club he once worshipped from the Roker terraces when he applied a neat far-post finish after the Boro defence failed to cut out Kevin Ball's low cross from the left.
Russell, a ninth-minute replacement for the injured Steve Agnew, was not the only native North-easterner to stamp his influence on the game. Richard Ord, Sunderland's central defender, did so literally and was justly sent off for clearly jumping on Nick Barmby's chest in the 58th minute.
Even Peter Reid had no argument on this occasion with the man in the middle, Graham Poll. "I'm disappointed with my player and I'll deal with that," he said.
Reid's side nevertheless merited the point they won for the fighting spirit they harnessed, within the laws, after twice falling behind. They did so for the first time after 18 minutes, when Emerson's fiercely struck 20-yard drive deflected off Paul Bracewell on its way into the home net.
The equaliser came courtesy of Phil Whelan, whose selection ahead of Derek Whyte at the heart of Middlesbrough's ponderous defence ensured another trip of limited enlightenment for poor Craig Brown, the Scotland manager. Having contributed towards a clean sheet for the Scots in their three-second appearance in Tallinn last week, Whyte might have considered himself unfortunate to have been dropped to bench duty. But at least Brown saw the one Scot who played - B international Alex Rae - score from the penalty spot after Whelan was harshly punished for an aerial challenge with Paul Stewart.
Sunderland were left chasing the game again, seven minutes into the second half, when Ravanelli swung his left boot to punish an uncleared corner. Ord's dismissal, the fourth of a Sunderland player in four Premiership matches, stacked the odds against the home side.
The system Reid adopted, with Paul Stewart as a lone striker, stifled Middlesbrough's creative endeavours in midfield but at the same time limited Sunderland's attacking menace. Chances were at a premium and it was fortunate for the hosts that Russell, the top scorer last season, was the player waiting to pounce when Ball's cross eluded the Boro defence.
"We should have made the most of our advantage," Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, lamented. But Peter Reid, for once, was cheered up.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Coton; Hall, Ord, Melville, Kubicki; Gray, Bracewell, Ball, Rae, Agnew (Russell, 9); Stewart. Substitutes not used: Bridges, Kelly, Howey, Perez (gk).
Middlesbrough (5-2-2-1): Miller; Cox, Vickers, Pearson, Whelan, Fleming; Mustoe, Emerson; Juninho, Barmby; Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Whyte, Beck, Moore, Stamp, Roberts (gk).
Referee: G Poll (Herts).