Sunderland rescued a 1-1 draw thanks to a last-gasp Jermain Defoe penalty at Stoke City, but Sam Allardyce's men are back in the Premier League relegation zone.
Defoe scored for the fourth away game in succession to make it 14 league goals for the season after drawing a trip from Geoff Cameron.
Allardyce's side have now lost one and drawn six of their past eight matches, but a 1-0 win for rivals Newcastle United at home to Crystal Palace means Sunderland slip to third bottom with a game in hand - one point from safety with pivotal home matches against Chelsea and Everton next on their agenda.
Stoke had conceded four goals in each of their three consecutive defeats prior to the match and boss Mark Hughes reacted by making five changes to his starting XI.
But it was one of the men retained from the 4-0 reverse at Manchester City, Marko Arnautovic, who opened the scoring having wasted the clearest chance of the first half.
Peter Crouch made just his third Premier League start of the season for the hosts and a trademark towering header in the 18th minute forced Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone to push to safety.
Arnautovic flashed a shot across the face of goal before the increasingly influential Crouch nodded wide from Phil Bardsley's right-wing cross.
The Austria international spurned a glorious chance after the half-hour mark when he collected Giannelli Imbula's measured pass, took a touch to open up his body and blazed over.
Sunderland pushed Hughes' men back before half-time, but could not find a way through as Lamine Kone lashed aimlessly wide from a partially cleared set-piece.
Allardyce's side were roared off by their fans at the interval, but a moment to forget inside his own box for Kone helped Stoke to take a 50th-minute lead.
Crouch levered himself up above Younes Kaboul, fairly in the view of referee Craig Pawson, and Kone misjudged the knockdown, allowing Arnautovic to smash home through Mannone.
The goalscorer, who recovered from a groin injury sustained at Manchester City last time out to start, was struck down again shortly afterwards and limped off to be replaced by the fit-again Jonathan Walters.
Sunderland top scorer Defoe, seemingly recovered from the ankle knock that troubled him before the break, cut inside to clip a shot over in the 59th minute.
As news filtered through of Newcastle leading through Andros Townsend, Sunderland's play became increasingly ragged - Allardyce reacting with understandable fury when Lee Cattermole sent a long ball out for a goal kick.
Crouch was unable to scramble home when Walters touched across goal before Defoe hooked a volley beyond the crossbar, unable to fully bring Wahbi Khazri's cross under his spell.
Inside the final 10 minutes, Defoe had a strike deflected agonisingly wide and the former England international's afternoon appeared set to end in frustration.
Glenn Whelan and Imbula came close to making the points safe for Stoke before Defoe kept his cool from 12 yards, sending Jakob Haugaard the wrong way.