Trailing 1-0 from Wednesday's Champions League qualifier first leg at Celtic Park, Hoops manager Tony Mowbray used this match to increase the fitness levels of his squad but he may have expected some more encouragement from the display.
Goals either side of the break from Kieran Richardson and Kenwyne Jones gave the visitors a well-deserved lead until Hoops midfielder Marc Crosas put a better spin on proceedings when he pulled a goal back.
If Mowbray learned little from his side's performance, albeit he did not play his strongest 11 at any point, then the sight of Scott Brown in his midfield will have heartened him ahead of the trip to Moscow.
Brown returned for the first time since undergoing end-of-season ankle surgery but it was a second-string Hoops side which started the game.
Before the kick-off there was a minute's applause as tribute to former England and Newcastle boss Sir Bobby Robson and former Motherwell player Paul McGrillen, who both died during the week.
The travelling fans admirably chanted Robson's name and they had more to sing about in a first half in which their side were by far the more impressive. Sunderland threatened for the first time in the eighth minute when Andy Reid forced his way all too easily past Hoops right-back Paul Caddis on the touchline.
Reid stood up a perfect ball for Jones but from only six yards out the Sunderland striker headed over Lukasz Zaluska's bar.
Seconds later, Reid sent Richardson away down the right with a terrific cross-field pass and he showed Crosas and Caddis a clean pair of heels before screwing his shot wide of the target.
However, in the 12th minute he was more accurate after Darren O'Dea's glaring error when dealing with a Jones flick-on allowed him a clear run on goal and he knocked it confidently past Zaluska.
Seven minutes from the break Sunderland survived a penalty claim when stopper Anton Ferdinand clattered in to Hoops midfielder Koki Mizuno, before Chris Killen was too slow to take a clever Paddy McCourt pass in his stride inside the box.
However, Zaluska was forced in to a fine mid-air save from Reid's 30-yard drive two minutes from the break before Jordan Henderson cracked the bar with a speculative long-range drive as Sunderland reiterated their goal threat.
There were just eight minutes played in the second half when Sunderland doubled their lead, Jones rising unmarked six yards out to head Reid's pin-point cross past the helpless Zaluska.
A batch of Celtic substitutions on the hour mark meant the home side had changed half their team, while Sunderland boss Steve Bruce gave debuts to new signings Fraizer Campbell and Lorik Cana off the bench.
The tempo of the game dropped until the 67th minute when Crosas drove in off the post from outside the box after a corner had only been half-cleared by the visitors.
The goal sparked Celtic and their fans in to life and they kept pushing for the equaliser.
Two minutes from the end substitute Scott McDonald missed a sitter when he somehow headed Georgios Samaras' cross past the post from point-blank range.