A win today would have seen Sunderland climb out of the bottom three and whilst they didn't manage that, the manner in which they claimed a draw from the game was extremely encouraging. What preceded those two late goals was however, one of Sunderland's poorest performances of the season.
Cardiff are not a good side but Sunderland spent the majority of the first half making them look like Manchester United in their prime under Alex Ferguson, with the Welshmen taking a deserved one goal lead into the break. Their threat down the wings was in evidence from the word go, with Cardiff targeting Dossena, who had a torrid time for the majority of the game.
Within the first minute, Cardiff signalled their intent, driving at Sunderland. Before scoring the opener in the fifth minute, Jordan Mutch had correctly been booked for a dive in the box and headed over an excellent Craig Noone cross. That Noone cross had come from the right and the way he beat Dossena with alarming ease was a sign of things to come.
This was all before that fifth minute opener, which Mutch lashed home from 20 yards, with the aid of a deflection off the stretching Diakite, another player who had a difficult time of things for the majority of the evening. It was his defensive partner Valentin Roberge, however, who was to blame in this instance. It was his sloppy, indecisive play, which led to him being easily outmuscled and Mutch blasting home.
The tone was set for the opening half an hour or so. Lee Cattermole bailed out Diakite before a Kim shot had to be tipped over by Mannone. Soon after Dossena was left to clear up after a neat one two released Campbell in behind Sunderland's disorganised back line. Soon after that, Cattermole picked up a booking as frustration began to set in.
Sunderland finally punctuated Cardiff's relentless pressure and a Sebastien Larsson ball across the six yard box had to be cleared well by Stephen Caulker. It was a brief respite.
Cardiff were soon back on the front foot, again attacking down the right. This time Noone's inswinging cross resulted in a header that the busy Mannone dealt with comfortably. Cardiff were also threatening through the middle, with the pacy, livewire Campbell causing Roberge all sorts of problems. One such Campbell run led to the French centre back fouling the striker. Mannone was forced to make another great save from the Whittingham free kick. Sunderland must not have missed the memo about Cardiff's threat from set pieces, as they went about conceding countless free kicks and corners.
Sunderland finally applied some pressure but Phil Bardsley declined to shoot when the ball fell to him in the box, instead running the ball out of play. It was another false dawn however, with Cardiff again threatening down their right. Following comical scenes in the Cardiff half - two Sunderland players taking each other out - another Noone cross was headed just wide, this time by that man Campbell.
More farcical play from Dossena, whose loose header under no pressure led to a long range shot being easily saved by Mannone. Half an hour into the game and the pattern was set. Cardiff could have been out of sight.
If only Sunderland had punished Cardiff at this point, perhaps they'd have gone on to win the game. Their best chance of the half fell to Jozy Altidore, who clumsily missed an open goal from less than six yards, stumbling into the ball and sending it wide. The move that led to the chance was Sunderland's best work of the match so far; good passing build up led to a Ki shot, which was parried into the path of the hapless American.
The big striker would go onto miss several other chances in the second half as Sunderland tried to find a way back into the game but it was this moment that could have turned the tide. Although Sunderland would go onto nab a draw, a goal at that moment would have been highly significant, but sadly it was not to be.
As if to prove the point, Sunderland finished the first half well, with Fabio Borini having a number of long range efforts well saved by Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall, who like his opposite number Mannone, had a very good game between the sticks.
Borini's contribution was all the more remarkable for the fact he had been playing through illness. He was subbed off at half time with reports filtering through that he had collapsed in the dressing room. Hopefully his condition is not serious and he is fit and well again very soon.
Fletcher replaced him but his key contribution to the game would come later. Before that, Sunderland's excellent support would have to endure more dross and Cardiff pressure. Again, the set pieces of Whittingham were causing problems, Campbell unable to control one free kick at the back post. The ex-Sunderland man would eventually have his say though.
On a day where Altidore had floundered and missed it a sitter it made it all the more galling to see an ex player slip into space in the six yard box to finish so easily after excellent work by Jordan Mutch, who had dribbled past a number of players in the box before finding Campbell's run. Both of these players had caused Sunderland significant problems and combined well throughout. They deserved their two goal lead and by this point it felt like game over.
Finally though, Sunderland began to get a proper foothold in the game. A couple of corners led to decent efforts; first from Cattermole - an unlikely source - whose vicious strike from just inside the box flashed over the bar. Another well planned corner resulted in Ki having a shot from range comfortably dealt with by Marshall.
Altidore's dreadful performance continued but he finally managed to make some positive contributions. A good pass from the American found Dossena who pulled the back for Giaccherini. The ex-Juventus man had been having a quiet game and his shot was blocked before slithering wide. Like Fletcher, his meaningful contribution would come later.
As the game entered its final quarter, Altidore cut in and had a shot easily saved by Marshall. He had done excellently to get into a shooting position and just prior to that, he had contributed well with an excellent run down the left and cross into the box. These moments of quality contrasted with another wasted opportunity later; he met an inviting Dossena cross with his head, but the connection was neither a shot nor a flick on and the ball sailed wide. In many respects, these three incidents represent the American's Sunderland career to date, with inconsistency to the fore.
With fifteen minutes of normal time to go, Poyet introduced his final two substitutes, Colback and Gardner replacing Larsson and the booked Cattermole. On the one hand, this sums up Sunderland's problems - a lack of variety and quality in depth - on the other it would go onto highlight the Uruguayan's excellent managerial ability.
In the 82nd minute, Sunderland got themselves back into the game. A lovely left wing Giaccherini cross was finished superbly by the first Poyet substitute, Steven Fletcher. The striker's movement was fantastic and his outstretched left boot guided the ball into the back of the net.
Sunderland began to press and dominate, sniffing the opportunity of a point. Some decent Altidore hold up play resulted in a 20 yard Gardner snapshot flying over the bar. Diakite then made a surging run from the back, looking more composed than he had done at any other point in the game, before Colback picked the ball up and shot wide.
Gardner and Colback had both been involved in Sunderland attacks and it would be the ex-Birmingham man who setup Sunderland's next chance, his left footed cross was beautifully controlled by Fletcher but his tame shot was easily saved. With time running out, Valentin Roberge's left footed volley from an improbable angle was then well saved by Marshall.
Cornelius then broke forward for Cardiff sensing an opportunity to kill the game off. Instead, his penalty claims were turned down and Sunderland went up the other end and scored a shock equaliser in the fifth minute of added time. Jack Colback's shot was deflected past the helpless Marshall, sending thousands of Sunderland supporters into wild celebration. It was nothing less than they deserved and despite such an awful performance for the majority of the game, the team's late flurry was just about worthy of the point too.