Jon Walters powered home from close range to give the Potters a ninth-minute lead at the Stadium of Light, before the home side had Craig Gardner see a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Charlie Adam later in the first half.
Black Cats captain John O’Shea's equalizer clinched a draw after the break to move his side three points clear of the relegation zone, leaving Tony Pulis’ side still in danger of getting sucked in.
Paolo Di Canio made two changes to the side that was thrashed by Aston Villa last Monday, with Jack Colback and James McLean coming in to replace Phil Bardsley and the suspended Stephane Sessegnon.
Pulis also made two alterations to his team as it searched for a third straight league win, bringing former Black Cats midfielder Dean Whitehead and Marc Wilson in for Glenn Whelan and Andy Wilkinson.
The hosts found themselves perched two points above the bottom three following results at the weekend, and knew nothing less than a victory would suffice if they were to begin pulling away from danger.
That appeared to resonate with the players as they stormed out of the blocks, enjoying a fair share of possession, only for their approach play to be foiled by a lack of finesse in their final ball.
Their imprudence was swiftly punished by Stoke, which broke the deadlock in familiar fashion.
Sixteen of Stoke's 31 league goals have come from set-pieces this season, so it was no surprise its first corner of the game bred the 17th, with Charlie Adams picking out Walters, who reacted quickly to power the ball in off the underside of the crossbar after his initial header hit Danny Graham.
Frustrations soon boiled over and the Black Cats were reduced to 10 men just past the half-hour mark after Gardner’s flew in late on Adam prompting referee Lee Mason to send the midfielder for an early bath.
Clear-cut chances were sparse, with Adam Johnson firing a free kick narrowly wide in first-half injury time and it was he that carried the biggest Sunderland threat after the interval, weaving his way in-field from the right flank and powering a fierce 20-yard drive into the chest of Asmir Begovic.
Stoke continued to threatening on the break as the home side committed bodies forward, with Cameron Jerome denied by a superb block from captain John O’Shea after Ryan Shotton teed him up.
And it proved significant as the Black Cats finally leveled just after the hour mark. Whitehead inadvertently glanced Sebastian Larsson’s corner towards the back post and the unmarked O’Shea, who gratefully stabbed the ball over the line, eliciting the customary wild celebration from Di Canio.
With parity restored both teams went in search of a winner, with Whitehead drilling straight at Mignolet and Danny Rose shaving the post with a spectacular hit at the other end.