CONNOR WICKHAM’S double kept Sunderland’s slim survival hopes alive after a shock draw at title-chasing Manchester City.
But the Black Cats were left reflecting on two points dropped after Vito Mannone’s howler gifted City a late equaliser at the Etihad Stadium.
Sunderland made an awful start when Fernadinho gave City a second minute lead, but Gus Poyet’s side didn’t let their heads go down, with John O’Shea (twice) and Fabio Borini spurning glorious opportunities to equalise.
But the Black Cats did pull level after the break when Wickham scored only his second Premier League goal when he cushioned home Emanuele Giaccherini’s cross.
Wickham then sent the travelling Sunderland fans into dreamland when he unleashed a stunning strike on the break after more excellent work from Giaccherini.
But with two minutes to go, goalkeeper Mannone horribly spilled Samir Nasri’s shot into the net, to deny Sunderland what would have been a deserved victory against a lacklustre City.
Sunderland were forced into two changes from the side which lost to Everton, with Santiago Vergini replacing the suspended Phil Bardsley at right-back and Seb Larsson coming in for the injured Ki Sung-Yueng in midfield.
With Ondrej Celustka, Carlos Cuellar and Craig Gardner also absent through illness or injury, there were places on the bench for Charis Mavrias, El-Hadji Ba and 19-year-old academy product Liam Agnew, who has been on loan at Boston.
Manchester City made five changes to the side which lost against Liverpool, with Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo replacing David Silva and Edin Dzeko up front.
Javi Garcia came in for the injured Yaya Toure, while Aleksandar Kolarov and James Milner were preferred to Gael Clichy and Jesus Navas.
Sunderland got off to the worst possible start after falling behind with less than two minutes on the clock.
Lee Cattermole was caught on the ball midway inside his own half by Negredo before the Spaniard spread it to the left flank.
Negredo stepped over Sergio Aguero’s square ball which deceived Wes Brown, leaving Fernandinho to beat Vito Mannone at his near post from the right-hand side of the penalty area.
But after that dismal opening, John O’Shea somehow spurned a glorious opportunity to level in the sixth minute.
Adam Johnson’s inswinging free-kick from the right found the head of O’Shea, six yards out, but the Sunderland skipper sent his header wide of the post.
Aguero let fly from 25 yards four minutes later with a right-footed drive which swerved awkwardly in the air.
Mannone couldn’t hold it, but City couldn’t make the most of the rebound, with Fernadinho scooping his volley handsomely over the top.
O’Shea missed another glorious chance to level from a set piece in the 12th minute as he met Seb Larsson’s corner from the left at the far post, but sent his header over the top.
Sunderland a third great opportunity to equalise in the 18th minute when Johnson picked out Borini in behind the City defence, with the Italian beating the offside down the right-hand side of the penalty area.
It was a similar position to Borini’s goal in the Capital One Cup final, but the on-loan Liverpool man lacked the same precision and dragged his right-footed shot wide of the far post.
Johnson then cut inside off the right flank and let fly from 20 yards, but his left-footed shot swerved wide of the far post.
HALF-TIME Man City 1 Sunderland 0
Sunderland continued in the same vein at the start of the second half, with Poyet’s side keeping possession well and winning the 50-50s against the sluggish hosts.
But both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances until the 72nd minute, when Jack Colback spurned yet another opportunity to draw Sunderland level.
Wickham held the ball up well midway inside the City half, laid it off to Johnson, who sent Colback in behind the home defence, to the right of Joe Hart’s goal.
But from a narrow angle, Colback sent his right-footed shot too close to Hart and the goalkeeper deflected it behind.
Seconds later though, Sunderland were deservedly level after a beautifully worked goal.
Nacho Scocco fed fellow substitute Emanuele Giaccherini down the left flank and the Italian delivered an exquisitely flighted cross to the far post where Wickham coolly cushioned a volley into the unguarded net.
City went close to regaining the lead in the 80th minute when Aleksandar Kolarov surged into the box from the left and pulled the ball back for substitute Edin Dzeko, who sent his shot wide of the near post.
But three minutes later, Sunderland were ahead after Wickham doubled his tally with another stunning goal.
Giaccherini broke forward from a City free-kick down the left, burst into the City half and sent an inch-perfect cross to the right-hand side of the area for Wickham.
The England Under-21 international took a touch and then smacked an unstoppable right-footed shot past Hart at the near post.
But with two minutes left on the clock, City equalised after a horrible error from Mannone.
Nasri let fly with a fairly routine effort from 15 yards, which Mannone stopped, but then painfully spilled into the bottom corner of his own net.
Seconds later, there was a chance for Nasri to give City the lead when the ball richocheted into his path 12 yards out, but with just Mannone to beat, he skied it over the top.
FULL-TIME Man City 2 Sunderland 2
MAN CITY: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Milner, Garcia, Fernandinho (Rodwell 87), Nasri, Aguero (Jovetic 57), Negredo (Dzeko 68). Subs not used: Pantilimon, Lescott, Richards, Clichy. Booked: Zabaleta (90)
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Johnson, Larsson (Giaccherini 68), Cattermole, Colback, Borini (Scocco 69), Wickham. Subs not used: Altidore, Ba, Mavrias, Agnew, Ustari. Booked: Borini (32), Alonso (65)