SUNDERLAND became only the third team this season to take points off Premier League leaders Chelsea after a gutsy Stadium of Light stalemate.
The Black Cats produced arguably their best performance of the season with a tireless, stella defensive display against Jose Mourinho’s men and could even have ended Chelsea’s unbeaten record.
Both sides hit the woodwork during the first half with Willian striking the post for Chelsea, before Santiago Vergini struck the bar for Sunderland.
Sunderland had the better of the half chances to win the game after the break, with an eighth draw of the season extended the Black Cats’ unbeaten run to four games.
Jack Rodwell returned to the starting line-up for the first time in four games after the summer signing was preferred to Jordi Gomez in midfield, in the only change to Gus Poyet’s side.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho named an unchanged XI for the third successive game.
Sunderland set their stall out by putting men behind the ball and trying to hit Chelsea on the counter-attack, yet Connor Wickham had a couple of sights on goal in the opening 10 minutes.
First, he saw his shot well-blocked by Branislav Ivanovic after a perfectly-weighted ball over the top from Seb Larsson.
Moments later, Wickham tried an ambitious right-footed effort from the left-hand side of the area which curled over the top.
The woodwork denied Chelsea in the 17th minute after Sunderland were hit on the break from their own attacking free-kick.
Diego Costa managed to feed the ball out to Willian on the edge of the area, whose low right-footed shot skidded off the greasy surface and crashed against the outside of the post after the faintest of touches from Costel Pantilimon.
Rodwell tried his luck from 30 yards in the 25th minute, but his left-footed drive was straight at Thibaut Courtois.
Sunderland assistant Mauricio Taricco was sent to the stands on the half-hour mark for complaining at referee Kevin Friend’s decision to award the Black Cats a free-kick.
Seconds later, a superb stop from Pantilimon prevented Chelsea breaking the deadlock after Ivanovic went untracked into the area and was picked out by Willian’s pass.
Ivanovic hit a right-footed shot across goal, but Pantilimon turned it away with his outstretched left leg.
Sunderland were denied themselves by the woodwork in the 34th minute when Adam Johnson’s clever chipped pass picked out Lee Cattermole down the right flank.
Cattermole’s cross was deflected into the path of Santiago Vergini, to the right of goal, but his hooked half-volley crashed against the top of the bar.
In the dying stages of the first half, there was a moment of controversy after Costa appeared to kick out at John O’Shea after a foul by the Sunderland skipper.
However, Friend’s punishment was limited to a strong word with the pair.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Chelsea 0
Chelsea had a chance from Willian’s four minutes into the second half, but Gary Cahill could only send his header from eight yards out straight at Pantilimon, albeit he was closely surrounded.
A couple of minutes later, Willian cleverly made a yard for himself 20 yards out and thrashed a right-footed shot at goal which was just wide.
Costa had another disciplinary escape in the 55th minute when he caught Wes Brown flush in the face with a trailing arm, but despite the crowd baying for a red card, Friend only produced a yellow.
Sunderland were growing as the half wore on and Wickham stung the palms of Courtois in the 68th minute when he came in off the right and a powerful right-footed shot which was straight at the Chelsea keeper, but he could only gather at the second attempt.
Substitute Didier Drogba thrashed a harmless left-footed shot across the face in the 81st minute, with Sunderland continuing to defend doggedly.
Moments later, Sunderland replacement Jozy Altidore almost managed to scramble the ball home, only to see his off-balance shot blocked by the legs of Courtois.
With six minutes to go, Sunderland had another sight of goal when an excellent passing move saw Johnson feed Altidore down the right-hand side of the area.
Altidore’s shot was blocked into the path of Johnson, 15 yards out, but he poked his right-footed effort wide.
Johnson had another effort in the 87th minute with a fizzing left-footed shot from 25 yards which drifted agonisingly wide.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 Chelsea 0
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Reveillere, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell (Gomez 62), Johnson, Wickham, Fletcher (Altidore 62). Subs not used: Mannone, Bridcutt, Alvarez, Coates, Buckley. Booked: O’Shea (75), Vergini (89), Gomez (90)
CHELSEA: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas, Willian (Schurrle 85), Oscar (Drogba 76), Hazard, Costa (Remy 76). Subs not used: Cech, Zouma, Filipe Luis, Mikel, Schurrle. Booked: Costa (55), Matic (86)