Awful. Desperate. Abysmal. Clueless. Shocking. Depressing. These were a few of the more polite words Sunderland fans used to describe their team after booing them off. No wonder that, down on the touchline, Martin O'Neill looked worried.

Norwich, despite playing most of the game with 10 men following Mark Bunn's controversial sending-off, were superbly well-organised and clung on to collect a richly deserved point. Thoroughly underwhelming, Sunderland have now gone seven games without a win and will need to improve appreciably if an end-of-season relegation skirmish is to be avoided.

Their slide towards the bottom three has coincided with some distinctly unflattering critiques. "Premier League wallpaper" was the way one commentator described O'Neill's side. According to another, watching the Wearside team has become "a chore".

Yet with games against Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton pending, the situation seems in peril of switching from mind-numbing to nervy for Wearsiders. "Very disappointing, very frustrating," said O'Neill. "With the extra man we should have done better. Confidence is low and we have tough matches ahead. It will be difficult."

His squad cancelled a planned jolly to Cheltenham last week but their defensive positioning proved rather less sensible when Kei Kamara met a corner with his head. Although the ball looked goalbound, Wes Hoolahan made sure of its destination courtesy of a second header, dispatched from two yards.

Shortly afterwards the skies above Chris Hughton's head darkened. First Mark Bunn, the goalkeeper, dashed off his line to block Danny Graham's path to goal and clear the bouncing ball only for it to rise up awkwardly and strike his elbow. Much to Bunn's fury, Chris Foy, the referee, immediately sent him off for handling outside the area. Trudging towards the tunnel, Bunn threw his gloves away in disgust.

Hoolahan was promptly withdrawn, allowing Lee Camp's introduction in goal, and it was not long before the Premier League debutant was beaten. A long punt into the area hit Sébastien Bassong on the arm, arguably accidentally. A penalty was awarded and Craig Gardner stepped forward, lifting his kick audaciously into the top corner.

Hughton was commendably measured. "There's always a risk of handball when a goalkeeper comes out of his area," he said. "But Mark Bunn is adamant the ball caught him under his arm. We'll analyse both decisions but the linesman should have given an offside before he gave the handball penalty. I want to give a lot of credit to my lads, though; to be down to 10 men for as long as we were showed tremendous resilience. We had to cope with a lot of crosses and shots from outside the box but Sunderland couldn't create clearcut chances."

While Camp impressed, Bassong and Michael Turner blocked, cleared and intercepted valiantly, providing a formidable central defensive barrier.

As O'Neill's side repeatedly let themselves down with poor final balls Norwich began mustering a sporadic counter-attacking threat and might have won a penalty had Foy spotted Danny Rose's handball in the area.

"We had a bit of luck with that," said Sunderland's manager. It would have been academic if Grant Holt, on for Kamara, had restored his team's lead when clean through on the break. Instead the striker's inferior first touch allowed Simon Mignolet to gather safely. "Grant missed the best chance of the game," acknowledged Hughton.

As the Stadium of Light grew edgily discontented O'Neill withdrew the disappointing Danny Graham and Adam Johnson before introducing James McClean and Connor Wickham.

Defying inevitable tiredness, Norwich somehow found answers to virtually every question the newcomers threw at them and, when Stéphane Sessègnon conjured himself a rare, inviting chance, he volleyed wide. It summed up Sunderland's season.

Man of the match Michael Turner (Norwich City)