The latest act in the Cardiff pantomime saw the wicked wizard from the far east, aka Vincent Tan, abused in time- honoured fashion by the audience and turn to his principal boy to appease them.

Tan brought the curtain down on Malky Mackay's management on Friday and needs to come up with a new leading man quickly if the show is not to fold in the West End that is the Premier League and return to the Championship provinces.

Cardiff's Malaysian owner is no Baron Hardup and promised that Mackay's successor will not have Buttons to work with but the first audition for the role ended badly when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the first choice, decided the part was not for him.

Tan sent his Turkish chairman, Mehmet Dalman, to speak after the match. In a knockabout routine that was more Ken Dodd than Kenwright, Dalman said yes, he had spoken to Solskjaer many times – in his Manchester United days. So had he spoken to him recently? "I might have." Was he a runner? "He always ran well for United." When pressed for a sensible answer, Dalman admitted he had only one candidate in mind, which we can safely assume was Solskjaer, but said David Kerslake, formerly Mackay's assistant, would remain in charge on a temporary basis for Wednesday's onerous trip to Arsenal.

With Solskjaer out of the equation it is back to the drawing board, with Cardiff looking for a young thruster full of ambition. Whether these are the right qualities is open to question, with a cogent, persuasive case to be made for an old sweat who has been through relegation battles before and has successfully established a promoted club in the Premier League – someone like Tony Pulis perhaps, who did it at Stoke and is breathing new life into a previously moribund Crystal Palace.

Pulis, a Welshman from Newport, a few miles down the M4 from Cardiff, has been through hard times and emerged in credit. He was out of work and available when Tan first reached the conclusion that Mackay should go but, while the money man procrastinated, Palace nipped in.

Kerslake, who is not a contender for the job, admitted his players were "devastated" by Saturday's result, which "felt like a defeat". Cardiff dominated their bottom-of-the-table opponents for an hour, deservedly leading 2-0, only to go into defensive mode too early and concede twice between the 83rd minute and the end. They remain two points clear of the bottom three but could ill afford to drop two with a daunting January to come. After Arsenal at the Emirates on New Year's Day they play Newcastle away in the FA Cup, then West Ham at home followed by Manchester City and Manchester United, both away.

Given such a testing sequence it was essential they made the most of Sunderland's visit and for most of the match it seemed they would do so. Flying out of the traps, they seized the initiative and Jordon Mutch should have scored with a header even before he did so in the sixth minute with a rasping drive from the 18-yard line. Craig Noone, a quick winger too often ignored this season, had the beating of Andrea Dossena and turned the Sunderland defence time and again. But Cardiff failed to do justice to his penetrative supply work and it was the 58th minute before they increased their lead, Mutch setting up Fraizer Campbell for a routine finish against his old club.

It was a winning position but two defensively minded substitutions, which saw Noone and Kim replaced by Don Cowie and Aron Gunnarsson, succeeded only in surrendering the initiative and Sunderland were able to take punitive advantage. Never-say-die spirit personified, they pulled one goal back through Steven Fletcher, then gained real reward in the fifth minute of added time when another substitute, Jack Colback, equalised with a deflected shot.

Justifiably proud of the character shown by his players, Gus Poyet said: "I really do feel we are going to be in the Premier League again next season." Cardiff too? Only if Dalman, the Tommy Cooper of chairmen, can pull a rabbit from his fez.

Man of the match Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City)