SUNDERLAND face an FA Cup fourth round replay against Championship Fulham after a limp Stadium of Light stalemate.
Gus Poyet’s side will have to travel to Craven Cottage on Tuesday, February 3 in an attempt to secure a place in the last 16 of the cup after a performance and result which did nothing to boost confidence ahead of next weekend’s crunch relegation battle against Burnley.
After an utterly dire opening 45 minutes, Sunderland were marginally better in the second half - despite the mindless dismissal of Jack Rodwell - with home debutant Jermain Defoe drawing several saves out of Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli.
But it was Fulham who almost snatched it at the death, with substitute Hugo Rodallega smacking a long-range shot against the outside of the post.
Defoe made his Stadium of Light bow in a Sunderland shirt, as Gus Poyet named a strong XI, with only three changes from the side which lost at Spurs.
Liam Bridcutt and Sebastian Coates replaced injured pair Adam Johnson and Wes Brown, while Vito Mannone made his first competitive appearance since November in goal.
Ex-England midfielder Scott Parker nor £11million striker Ross McCormack were in the Fulham side, as Cottagers boss Kit Symons made four changes to his starting XI.
The opening exchanges were desperately dull stuff, with Sunderland wing-backs Billy Jones and Patrick van Aanholt getting plenty of space, yet neither side offering real sense of attacking threat.
The first meaningful effort came from Fulham in the 22nd minute when Moussa Dembele curled a left-footed shot from the edge of the area which was pushed away to his right by Mannone.
However, the spectacle didn’t improve, with Jack Rodwell perhaps fortunate to only escape with a yellow card on the half-hour mark and lunging in on Fulham left-back Konstantinos Stafylidis.
Sunderland finally forced Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli into a save in the 33rd minute when van Aanholt’s looping right-footed cross from the left found its way through to Seb Larsson on the far side of goal.
Larsson got away an off-balance right-footed shot towards the near post, which was turned behind by the legs of Bettinelli.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Fulham 0
The second half started in the same vein, with Fulham going close in the 51st minute when Seko Fofana took on Santiago Vergini and bobbled a deflected shot from the left of goal just wide of the far post.
Moments later, there was a rare sight of the service-starved Defoe, as he won the ball on the left-hand touchline, cut inside and hit a right-footed shot from 25 yards which served well wide.
Defoe went much closer in the 62nd minute after Bridcutt played in the overlapping Jones down the right-hand side of the area and he lifted a cross to the back post.
It landed on the volley for Defoe, whose right-footed effort was spooned onto the outside of the post by Bettinelli.
The Fulham came to the rescue again in the 65th minute when van Aanholt’s loose touch was met by a scuffed shot from Rodwell on the edge of the area.
It landed fortuitously into the path of Defoe, who stabbed it at goal, only to be denied by Bettinelli low to his right.
Sunderland were then reduced to 10 men when Rodwell was shown an idiotic second yellow card for preventing Bettinelli’s clearance.
However, Defoe continued to test the Fulham keeper - an awkward shot from 20 yards pushed away by Bettinelli low to his right.
Van Aanholt then fired just over the top in the 78th minute after Wickham’s loose touch inadvertantly dropped into his path down the left-hand side of the area.
Wickham tried his luck himself in the 82nd minute, with a powerful drive from 25 yards that was tipped over the bar by Bettinelli.
Fulham almost snatched it with four minutes to go when McCormack laid it off to fellow substitute Hugo Rodallega, whose low drive from 25 yards smacked against the outside of the post with Mannone beaten.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 Fulham 0
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Jones (Bucklkey 75), van Aanholt, O’Shea, Coates, Vergini, Bridcutt, Larsson, Rodwell, Fletcher (Wickham 66), Defoe. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Gomez, Graham, Alvarez, Giaccherini. Booked: Rodwell (30), Coates (55), Buckley (86). Sent off: Rodwell (66)
FULHAM: Bettinelli, Grimmer, Hutchinson, Bodurov, Stafylidis, Tunnicliffe, Fofana (Kacaniklic 75), Christensen, Ruiz, Woodrow (Rodallega 75), Dembele (McCormack 61). Subs not used: Kiraly, Zverotic, Burn, Roberts.