Sunderland were denied a famous win by two late goals as high-flying Manchester City got out of jail at the Etihad Stadium.
City saw a 20-match winning home run in the Barclays Premier League come to an end at the hands of a Black Cats side who played with real verve and tenacity to come within a whisker of taking all three points.
Seb Larsson handed the visitors the lead with a fine finish just after the half-hour and Nicklas Bendtner's deft header sent them in ahead at the break after Mario Balotelli had made it 1-1.
Larsson netted his second of the match 10 minutes after the break and Bendtner was inches away from scoring a fourth goal before City mounted their comeback.
Balotelli gave Roberto Mancini's side hope with a powerful shot six minutes from time before Aleksandar Kolarov levelled moments later.
It was cruel on Martin O'Neill's Sunderland, who acquitted themselves exceptionally well against a City outfit who went into the game having conceded just seven home league goals all season.
Indeed, O'Neill can be proud of the efforts of his players, with any number of his charges producing excellent displays.
Chief amongst them was Matt Kilgallon, who returned in central defence as one of two changes - the other being Jack Colback, who came back in following the birth of his first child.
Sunderland began brightly, with Micah Richards bravely sticking his face in the way of James McClean's rasping drive after just three minutes.
At the other end, Simon Mignolet did well to get down and tip away a ninth-minute free kick from Kolarov which looked set to sneak into the bottom corner.
But the visitors were looking lively and they manufactured an excellent opportunity just after the quarter-hour.
The effervescent Stephane Sessegnon led a charge through the middle and exchanged passes with Larsson before rolling the ball back into the path of Craig Gardner, who drove a low shot into the side-netting.
The chance seemed to spark City into life as Edin Dzeko forced a fine reaction save from Mignolet with a rising drive before Balotelli headed over from close range.
Again Sunderland responded; McClean firing inches wide of Joe Hart's right-hand post after turning to fire Larsson's cross goalwards.
The hosts didn't heed the warning shot, though, as O'Neill's men continued to probe and took a deserved lead just after the half-hour.
Again Sessegnon was the catalyst, shrugging off the attentions of Balotelli to advance into a prime position and feed Larsson in space on the edge of the box.
Sunderland's super Swede didn't need a second invitation and picked out the bottom corner with a precise shot, dispatching the ball beyond Hart's despairing dive.
City's response was swift and the hosts levelled two minutes before the break after Dzeko was denied by Mignolet at close quarters.
Dzeko tumbled under a challenge from Gardner, referee Phil Dowd pointed to the spot and Balotelli coolly slotted home from 12 yards.
It seemed as if the goal would be the cue for a spell of home dominance, but the hosts reckoned without Sunderland's resolve as the visitors bit back.
A well-worked move sent Sessegnon into space and the forward clipped in a superb cross which Bendtner clinically dispatched with an ice-cold header.
City were stunned, and it got even better for O'Neill's men 10 minutes after the break as they registered another goal of the highest quality.
Sessegnon's technical ability eked out the space for him to release Bendtner, and the Dane steered a low cross into the path of Larsson to slide home at the far post to take his goal tally to eight for the season.
O'Neill was forced to make a change with nine minutes left as Kilgallon limped out of the game with cramp to be replaced by Sotirios Kyrgiakos.
Sunderland were purring and could even have made it 4-1 six minutes from time when Bendtner swept a well-struck drive over the top from Sessegnon's feed.
But City went almost straight down the other end to reduce the arrears - Balotelli firing a powerful shot beyond Mignolet after cutting in from the left flank. The goal would turn the tide.
Sunderland hearts were broken just a minute later as a cross was headed clear as far as Kolarov, whose low bullet through a crowd of players flashed beyond an unsighted Mignolet and in.
City piled forward in search of a winner, but it didn't come as Mancini's side saw their winning home league record stopped at 20.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for O'Neill and his men, who were left to reflect on a point from a game they really didn't deserve to lose.
But they can be justly proud of their efforts.
|Manchester City 3v3Sunderland|
Scorer: Balotelli (43 pen., 85)
Scorer: Kolarov (86)
Scorer: Larsson (30, 54)
Scorer: Bendtner (45)
|Attendance: 0||FT (16:55)|