SUNDERLAND fluffed a huge chance to take a step closer to survival after being unable to get the better of 10 man Norwich.
The Black Cats extended their winless run to seven games and remain perilously perched above the drop zone, despite playing more than an hour with a man advantage.
Norwich drew first blood when they took advantage of some desperate Sunderland defending from Robert Snodgrass’ corner, as Wes Hoolahan headed home from point-blank range.
But Sunderland were given a lifeline on the half-hour when Norwich keeper Mark Bunn was sent off for handball outside the Canaries box.
They received another helping hand from the officials before the break when Sebastien Bassong was penalised for handball in the area, allowing Craig Gardner to level from the spot with his eighth of the season.
But Sunderland struggled to create anything clear-cut during the second half and it was Norwich who were left feeling aggrived after Danny Rose should have been penalised for handball, just inside the Black Cats box.
Carlos Cuellar, Danny Rose and David Vaughan were all included in the starting XI, with Titus Bramble, Jack Colback and Alfred N’Diaye the three to miss out.
Cuellar partnered John O’Shea at centre-half, Rose replaced Jack Colback at left-back and Vaughan came in for Seb Larsson in central midfield.
Norwich boss Chris Hughton dropped Grant Holt for midfielder Wes Hoolahan, while winger Elliott Bennett replaced the injured Anthony Pilkington.
After a bright start from Norwich, it was Sunderland who had the first opportunity in the sixth minute when Craig Gardner’s punted free-kick forward was knocked down by Danny Graham.
Sebastien Bassong managed to outmuscle Steven Fletcher to the loose ball, but it dropped back into the path of Graham, only for his shot to be mopped up by keeper Mark Bunn from point-blank range.
O’Shea headed over the top from a couple of yards out in the 15th minute when he couldn’t get over the ball from Adam Johnson’s visciously inswinging right wing corner.
But Sunderland began to let the game meander and in the 25th minute, Norwich found the breakthrough with their fifth corner of the game.
Robert Snodgrass delivered an inswinger from the right, which was headed back into the goalmouth at the far post from Kei Kamara and Wes Hoolahan flicked it into the net unmarked from a yard out.
Sunderland were given a lifeline on the half-hour mark though when former Black Cats defender Michael Turner sent a disastrous header back towards Bunn.
There was not enough pace on the ball and with Graham closing him down, Bunn raced out of his area and blocked it with his elbow.
Referee Chris Foy immediately showed Bunn a straight red, with goalscorer Hoolahan making way for back-up stopper Lee Camp.
From the resulting free-kick, Gardner planted a right-footed effort a yard wide of the post.
The officials made another huge decision in Sunderland’s favour in the 39th minute when Bassong was penalised for handball, just as it looked like a Black Cats foray into the area had come to nothing.
Replays showed the former Newcastle defender controlled with his chest and the ball rolled down his arm, with the linesman awarding a spot-kick.
Gardner stepped up and sent Camp the wrong way, smashing high into the left-hand corner.
Moments later, Graham had a golden chance to give Sunderland the lead after Camp managed to push away Seb Larsson’s rasping drive from 25 yards.
Graham pounced on the rebound, but could only slice a left-footed half-volley into the turf and wide of the far post from eight yards out.
Rose hit the woodwork with the last kick of the half, when his angled low shot from the edge of the area, deflected off Turner and struck the outside of the post.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 1 Norwich 1
Gardner tested Camp’s reflexes in the 58th minute after overlapping Fletcher down the right and striking a powerful right-footed effort which the keeper was forced to tip over the top.
Norwich should have been awarded a penalty in the 69th minute when Russell Martin’s cross cannoned against the outstretched arm of Rose.
The offence was penalised, but referee Foy judged that it took place outside the box, when replays clearly showed contact was made inside.
Norwich had another chance in the 72nd minute when Canaries replacement Holt found himself clean through on goal from Sunderland substitute Titus Bramble’s replacement.
But Holt over-ran the ball as he approached the area and it ran harmlessly into the midriff of Simon Mignolet.
Sessegnon had a chance with three minutes to go, but he could only send his half-volley wide of the far post after Gardner’s right wing cross was deflected into his path 10 yards out.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 1 Norwich 1
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, Cuellar (Bramble 71), O’Shea, Rose, Sessegnon, Vaughan, Larsson, Johnson (Wickham 84), Fletcher, Graham (McCLean 75). Subs not used: Westwood, Bardsley, N’Diaye, Colback. Booked: Larsson (89)
NORWICH: Bunn, Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido, Snodgrass (Whittaker 88), Howson, Johnson, Hoolahan (Camp 31), E Bennett, Kamara (Holt 65). Subs not used: Jackson, Fox, Becchio, R Bennett. Sent off: Bunn (30). Booked: Snodgrass (38), Holt (72), Camp (90)