There was late heartbreak for Sunderland as a late, late own goal from Anton Ferdinand rescued a fortunate point for Manchester United.
Sunderland deservedly led in injury time after Kenwyne Jones headed home his fifth goal of the season to give the visitors the scoreline their industry warranted.
Darren Bent had given his side a sensational lead inside the first ten minutes but Dimitar Berbatov equalised soon after the break.
A first win at Old Trafford in 41 years looked on the cards as Sunderland defended heroically, but the visitors saw Kieran Richardson sent off late on before a wayward shot from Patrice Evra struck the grounded Ferdinand and flew in with just seconds left.
While a victory may have not have been achieved, the Black Cats can take great heart from a committed display which ended United's 100% record on home soil.
Pre-match, midfielder Lee Cattermole kept his starting place after recovering from an ankle problem, while Phil Barsley and Ferdinand also came in to replace Paulo Da Silva and the injured John Mensah.
The television cameras soon picked up England boss Fabio Capello watching in the stands - presumably with one eye firmly on in-form striker Bent. He didn't disappoint.
Just seven minutes had elapsed when the £10m frontman fired Sunderland into the lead with a exquisite finish of the very highest quality for his seventh (or possibly eighth, depending on the outcome of last week's controversy) goal of the season.
Cattermole steered the ball into the striker's path of the edge of the box, and he took a touch beyond John O'Shea before drilling a low shot past the defender and into the corner of the net with Ben Foster at full stretch.
Shaken by the goal, United edged into the contest after Andy Reid fired over from distance for the visitors. But they found Sunderland in determined mood defensively, exemplified when the restored Ferdinand did brilliantly to head O'Shea's driven cross away from Danny Wellbeck at the front post.
The visitors continued to defend well against United's quick passing and movement, counter-punching when they could as Jones tested Foster down low when he pulled the trigger from distance just before the half-hour.
Sunderland's midfield duo of Lorik Cana and the fit-again Cattermole were akin to twin icebreakers in the middle of the park, disrupting play and distributing the ball well as Reid and Steed Malbranque bombed on from wide positions.
And another counter-attack gave Reid the space to swing a great cross to the back post, but the onrushing Bent couldn't attack the flight of the ball and could only head out for a goal-kick.
The half-time whistle brought disquiet from the Old Trafford crowd and the Black Cats were forced to defend again just two minutes after the break as United looked for a response.
Craig Gordon rescued his side by denying Nani from close range following a short back-header from Ferdinand, who immediately atoned for his error by blocking Wayne Rooney's follow-up shot as his keeper scrambled to recover.
The warning shot preceded an equaliser on the 50-minute mark. Gordon did well to deny Rooney but a hurried clearance fell to O'Shea, who crossed from the right for Berbatov to arrow a spectacular overhead kick into the corner of the goal.
Far from going under, Sunderland once again showed that streak of steel which served them so well when pegged back to 2-2 against Wolves to stun Old Trafford with a second goal just before the hour.
Referee Alan Wiley cleverly allowed play to go on after Darren Fletcher lunged at Reid, and the Irish winger kick-started the best move of the match.
He charged forward, one-twos all the way, before playing a neat ball off Jones and delivering a teasing cross into the box. After laying the ball off, Jones had charged into the box and he muscled in between weak challenges from Vidic and Foster to nod the ball into the back of the unguarded net.
Cue bedlam in the away end and silence around Old Trafford.
But the champions weren't simply going to lie down on their own patch and the Black Cats were soon back on the defensive as United attacked the Stretford End, coming close through Wellbeck's screamer from distance.
Then the ever-dangerous Rooney turned smartly on the edge of the area and crashed a low shot inches beyond Gordon's far post before Turner did brilliantly to head a deep cross behind for a corner in front of his own goal.
Turner's defensive partner Ferdinand was in the right place at the right time to deflect another Rooney shot behind as Sir Alex Ferguson's outfit pushed forward looking for the equaliser. Berbatov headed over from the resulting corner.
Again Sunderland hit back as sub Jordan Henderson - on for Reid with 16 minutes left - almost marked his arrival by carving out a third goal for the visitors.
Stuck in a corner almost on the goal-line, the youngster did brilliantly to out-think Evans and find Malbranque, but the lurking Jones saw the cross taken right off his toe by sub Michael Carrick just as he looked set to sweep the ball home.
That was the last of the action for Jones, who was replaced by Fraizer Campbell after appearing to struggle with cramp.
If Sunderland fans around the world were biting their nails, the tension was cranked up a notch with 15 minutes to play - and ex-United man Richardson was at the centre of the action.
He was harshly adjudged to have given away a free-kick wide on Sunderland's left, kicked the ball away in anger and, already on a booking, was on his way to the changing rooms after being shown a second yellow card for dissent.
Bruce immediately responded by taking off Malbranque for George McCartney as his players redoubled their defensive efforts faced with playing out the last five minutes plus injury time a man short.
Vidic headed over from a decent position and Carrick scythed a shot wide from 20 yards as four minutes of stoppage time were announced.
But right at the death there was heartache for Sunderland and Ferdinand.
Cana headed a goalward effort off the line and Evra's follow-up from the edge of the box was going wide, but in trying to clear the ball a prone Ferdinand could only divert it agonisingly into his own net.
A disappointing and rather unlucky end to an excellent performance - but most Sunderland fans would definitely have taken this result before the game, and they can certainly take heart from the performance.