SUNDERLAND, United Kingdom (AFP) - Ten-man Sunderland took a small step towards Premier League survival after coming from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Stoke on Monday.
Former Manchester United defender John O'Shea rescued a point for Paolo di Canio's side, already a man down after Craig Gardner was sent off, when he struck from close range in the 63rd minute following a corner.
Jon Walters gave Stoke a ninth minute lead, reacting first to fire home after his header from Charlie Adam's cross was blocked.
Then, for the second match in a row, Sunderland found themselves down to 10 men after Gardner was shown a straight red card by referee Lee Mason for an over the ball one-footed challenge on Adam.
The draw left Sunderland as one of three teams on 38 points (above Norwich and Newcastle on goal difference) and three points clear with two games to play of Wigan, who currently occupy the third and final relegation place.
However, FA Cup finalists Wigan will also move to 38 points with two league games left, and intensify a manic battle to avoid demotion to the second-tier Championship, if they win at home to manager Roberto Martinez's former club Swansea on Tuesday.
Sunderland next play Southampton, with the south coast side themselves not out of drop danger on 39 points, with di Canio glad he was able to inspire his team at half-time.
"What can you say at half-time? I tried to motivate my players and told them that we were playing at home," the Italian told Sky Sports. "If you don't concede a second goal you can stay in the game.
"The players were amazing to react in the way they did. This point in my opinion will be crucial at the end of the season. I will not cry or make an excuse. We have players missing and I will only focus on those players I can select.
"We have to handle our aggression. It is a Champions League final for us against Southampton at the weekend. I will not watch Wigan tomorrow (Tuesday) as last time I watched them they won."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis, frustrated by the outcome, praised Sunderland's resilience by saying: "It was a hard-earned point, we knew it would be hard.
"You have to give Sunderland a lot of credit, they played with a lot of spirit and we are pleased to get a point to get to 41 points. It's one of those funny seasons when everything is not sorted out yet.
"We're disappointed not to take the three points which would have made us safe but we are 11th in the Premier League with two games to go. We can still finish in the top half." Bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers and Reading have already been relegated.