It was a draw which felt like a Sunderland win.
It was a draw achieved by the fighting spirit teams cannot avoid relegation without.
It was a draw which extended the Black Cats’ unbeaten run to five games, earned in spite of some of the worst football they have played this season.
It was a draw which featured a first goal in two months from the striker they will depend on in the second half of the season.
Yet it was only a draw.
Sunderland are the Premier League’s great teases, almost every week dropping hints they have enough to wriggle out of this mess but not yet delivering on it.
The fans who sang it relentlessly throughout the last 20 minutes were proved right. Things did get better for their team.
It seems almost certain the second half of their season will outdo the first. Whether it will be enough to keep them up is much less clear.
With the Premier League season at its halfway point the list of teams under serious threat of relegation is long, yet the Wearsiders are still to beat any of them.
Four points from consecutive away games is a good return, but the results would have been better the other way around.
With the bottom end of the table bunching like a city-centre bar on New Year’s Eve, victory would have lifted Sunderland out of the bottom four for the first time since the tables became relevant.
Yet the team who 48 hours earlier added Everton to an impressive list of scalps could not see off sorry Cardiff City.
Late Steven Fletcher and Jack Colback goals offered hope and things will be considerably brighter if Gustavo Poyet gets the January reinforcements he craves.
However, this comeback probably said more about Cardiff’s prospects of beating the drop than their visitors’.
For the third game in four, this was a great opportunity for Sunderland to beat a team around them.
Like the others, it ended with the points shared. Time is running out to land a glove or two on their rivals. They are saving their best for the three-pointers and squandering the six-pointers.
Weeks of off-the-field politics finally reached their inevitable conclusion on Friday with Malky Mackay’s sacking. The red-shirted Bluebirds were lifted by fans who channelled their emotion more towards supporting Mackay than protesting against owner Vincent Tan.
Yet it was difficult to disguise the fact this Cardiff team is not that good. For half-an-hour their failings were hidden by Sunderland’s ineptitude.
The Black Cats’ passing was woeful. On the rare occasions they got the ball to Jozy Altidore, it invariably bounced off him. It took 25 minutes for Cardiff fans to boo Sunderland’s creator-in-chief Ki Sung-Yeung, on loan from Swansea City.
Presumably it was the first time they noticed he was playing.
Valentin Roberge and Mohammed Diakite were looking like fourth and fifth centre-backs playing their second games in two days after most of the season on the sidelines.
Left-back Andrea Dossena provided a better advertisement for the imminent arrival of Marcos Alonso than the Spaniard ever will.
An unmarked Jordan Mutch followed Steven Caulker’s header wide with one over the bar.
Vito Mannone tipped over from Kim Bo-Kyung and saved low from Peter Whittingham, Caulker glanced a header at him, Cattermole was booked for fouling Mutch.
When the stand-in captain had Sunderland’s first shot, 20 minutes in, it went 18 yards wide.
Six minutes later Phil Bardsley burst on to the ball ten yards out. His control took it out for a goalkick.
When Dossena finally put in a decent tackle it was on team-mate Sebastian Larsson, allowing Craig Noone’s fast feet to skip through.
When the cross finally came in, a stooping Fraizer Campbell headed wide. Sunderland eventually asserted themselves through Ki and Fabio Borini, the latter forcing a 32nd-minute save from David Marshall. Altidore stretched for the rebound and put it wide of an empty goal.
Borini forced a few saves late in the half but did not reappear for the second after collapsing in the dressing room at half-time.
It would have been easy for Borini heading to hospital on a drip – not as dramatic as it looked – to distract Sunderland, but the intent they ended the first period continued. So did the failings.
Campbell was unmarked at a corner, but the ball came at a height he could not deal with and Diakite’s attempted clearance went almost square.
A minute later Mutch burst too easily through Sunderland’s back line and put in a cross Campbell converted. As is the modern fashion, he tried his best not to look happy about scoring against his old team.
Opponents who had not scored twice away all season refused to accept their fate.
Cattermole volleyed over from ten yards, Ben Turner blocked Giaccherini’s shot and Caulker threw himself in the way of Altidore’s.
Fletcher stretched to tap in Giaccherini’s shot with seven minutes left. It was crucial to the game, and could be as important in the bigger picture.
Sunderland are crying out for a goalscorer and until the last two goalless months he has looked their best bet. In the 90th minute he had another chance but could only shoot at Marshall from a tight angle.
Cardiff’s goal was under siege by then. Colback’s shot from outside the area was blocked and the third substitute Craig Gardner fired over.
Roberge’s volley was pushed wide, Bardsley’s strike was blocked, while Giaccherini’s curled just wide.
However, the persistence paid off in the fifth added minute, Colback’s shot deflecting off Caulker and in.
Hopefully it was the morale boost Sunderland need to push their survival bid on another step.