Jonathan Walters fired the visitors ahead after nine minutes from a corner and Sunderland's task was made all the more difficult when Craig Gardner was sent off on 34 minutes for a late challenge on Charlie Adam.
In the end Stoke's numerical advantage did not matter as the home side rescued an unlikely point thanks to a goal by defender John O'Shea on 63 minutes.
The clash came a day after the 40th anniversary of Sunderland's famous FA Cup final win over Leeds United, and manager Paolo Di Canio managed to get a champions' type response in the second half from the current crop of Sunderland players.
After Walters' goal in the opening period Stoke managed to restrict Sunderland to long-range attempts and, when Gardner saw red, it looked like the home side could be on the end of another hammering after last week's 6-1 thrashing at Aston Villa.
But, somehow Sunderland responded and Adam Johnson's near miss ten minutes after the break set the ball rolling.
As Sunderland pressed on it did allow Stoke a rare attack and Cameron Jerome went close after combining well with Adam.
Sunderland started to get some joy from set-pieces though and O'Shea was unfortunate to see his attempt cleared off the line.
If that was a warning then the hammer blow was delivered minutes later. Sebastian Larsson delivered the corner from the left, Ryan Shawcross failed to react and O'Shea prodded home.
It was a fitting reward for the Irishman who defended excellently especially when his side were reduced to ten men.
Remarkably Sunderland could have snatched an unlikely winner but Danny Rose's shot clipped the outside rather than the inside of the post during the closing stages.
The result means Sunderland climb to 15th on 38 points, while Stoke, who also moved a point closer to safety, reach the 41-point mark in 11th in the Premier League table.