SUNDERLAND ended a run of five consecutive away defeats with a goalless draw at Aston Villa.
But the Black Cats were ruing missing out on all three points after two desperately close near-misses at Villa Park.
Emanuele Giaccherini somehow steered the ball over the top from three yards out on the stroke of half-time after Steven Fletcher left him with the goal at his mercy.
And then in the second half, the woodwork denied Sunderland, with Fabio Borini rattling the crossbar with a thumping header.
Sunderland were excellent defensively, although they were given an injury scare in the dying stages with John O’Shea limping through the finale.
Gus Poyet surprisingly made three changes to the starting line-up, with Adam Johnson, Jack Colback and Andrea Dossena all relegated to the bench.
Fabio Borini took Johnson’s place out wide, ex-Aston Villa man Craig Gardner replaced Colback in midfield and Dossena came in at left-back, with Phil Bardsley switching to the opposite side of defence.
Villa boss Paul Lambert made four changes with Antonio Luna, Andreas Weimann, Gabby Agbonlahor and Fabian Delph all restored to the starting line-up after shaking off injuries.
The hosts went close to a third minute opener when Delph curled in a dangerous inswinging left-footed cross from the left.
Gabby Agbonlahor got above Phil Bardsley at the far post, but couldn’t get enough on his header and glanced it wide.
Three minutes later, Andrea Dossena produced Sunderland’s first effort when he collected Steven Fletcher’s lay-off on the edge of the area after the Scotland international had brought it forward from halfway.
Dossena controlled and let fly with a left-footed drive from the edge of the area which went straight into the side netting at the near post.
The Italian left-back picked out the clever run of Craig Gardner in the 16th minute after the midfielder had broken in behind Villa defence.
Gardner got to the ball ahead of Brad Guzan, but couldn’t get his right-footed flick on target, directing it a couple of yards wide of the near post.
Christian Benteke fired over the top in the 29th minute after Andreas Weimann broke down the Sunderland right and squared the ball back to Karim El Ahmadi.
El Ahmadi fed Ashley Westwood who was closed down quickly by the Black Cats and layed it off to Benteke on the left-hand side of the area, whose shot towards the far top corner was high.
Seb Larsson went desperately close in the 32nd minute after Ron Vlaar brought down Emanuele Giaccherini on the far left-hand corner of the Villa area.
Larsson curled a right-footed free-kick towards the far post which drifted inches wide of the woodwork.
Delph let fly with a decent left-footed drive from 25 yards four minutes later, which swerved away from the far post at the last minute.
With a minute to go until the interval, Giaccherini somehow managed to spurn a golden opportunity to give Sunderland the lead.
Ki Sung-Yeung lifted the ball into the area and Steven Fletcher headed it back across goal for Giaccherini, who had the goal at his mercy, but somehow managed to spoon it over the top from three yards.
HALF-TIME Aston Villa 0 Sunderland 0
Vito Mannone was called into action in the 49th minute after Benteke picked out Agbonlahor with a crossfield ball to the right.
Agbonlahor burst beyond Dossena, who committed himself too easily, with his first touch before bearing down on goal and unleashing a right-footed shot towards the near post which Mannone pushed behind.
The woodwork denied Sunderland in the 66th minute after Giaccherini curled in a beautiful inswinging cross from the left which was met 12 yards out by Borini.
The Italian made contact with a firm header, but saw his effort crash flush against the bar with Brad Guzan beaten.
Borini was involved again in the 71st minute when his cross from the right hit Wes Brown, who couldn’t direct a deliberate effort on goal from six yards out and the ball rolled harmlessly into the arms of Guzan.
FULL-TIME Aston Villa 0 Sunderland 0
ASTON VILLA: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Luna, Delph, Westwood, El Ahmadi (Tonev 71), Agbonlahor, Benteke (Kozak 86), Weimann (Albrighton 71). Subs not used: Steer, Baker, Lowton, Sylla. Booked: Vlaar (32), Agbonlahor (90)
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, Dossena (Celustka 84), Brown, O’Shea, Ki, Gardner (Colback 76), Larsson, Borini (Johnson 76), Giaccherini, Fletcher. Subs not used: Altidore, Roberge, Cattermole, Pickford. Booked: Bardsley (90)