From Sunderland's viewpoint there are a few what ifs. Who knows what might have been had Gus Poyet facilitated Fabio Borini's shift into a central attacking role by switching his formation from 4-1-4-1 to 4-4-2 a little earlier? Or preferred Jack Colback to Sebastian Larsson in central midfield? Or not excluded Italy's Emanuele Giaccherini from the substitutes' bench? Or even started Jozy Altidore ahead of a less than fit looking Steven Fletcher?

There is a case for arguing that Sunderland's manager made at least four mistakes – Lee Cattermole's advocates maintain his demotion to the bench represented a fifth – but there was also a sense that Palace would have sneaked a point regardless. Tony Pulis, who seemed to be patenting a 6-3-1 formation and rarely encouraged his team to emerge from their own half, dubbed it a "must not lose game", and flew back south celebrating mission accomplished.

Standing 17th – one place and three points better off than Sunderland – Palace are anything but out of danger, particularly as Poyet's team hold two games in hand. Yet if the statistics suggest all is far from lost for the Wearsiders, their alarming mental blocks in the creative and goalscoring departments threaten to ensure survival slips from Poyet's grasp.

"It was an opportunity lost," acknowledged Wes Brown who, assured as ever in central defence, was rarely stretched. "We put a lot of pressure on them but maybe we just missed that finishing touch."

The mood among the near 44,000 crowd would have been even more downbeat had Palace's Kagisho Dikgacoi not shot wide from seven yards in the final minute, with only the otherwise embarrassingly underemployed Vito Mannone to beat. Yet if defeat would have been horribly harsh on a dominant, if blunt-edged, Sunderland, the moments when Altidore forced Julián Speroni into a tremendous save and Borini's shot rebounded off the woodwork represented extremely isolated attacking highlights.

"It's not an ideal situation," agreed Brown. "The only good thing is that everyone down at the bottom is still so close."

Man of the match Fabio Borini (Sunderland)