In what was a poor first half at Villa Park, neither side looked like troubling the scorers with tame efforts from Connor Wickham and Charles N’Zogbia the only chances of note.
But minutes after the interval the game came to life after Delph was shown a red card – Villa’s third in four games – for a studs-up challenge which caught Jordi Gomez on the ankle.
Sunderland tried to make their numerical advantage count and they came closest in the dying stages when Gomez’s 30-yard thunderbolt was tipped onto the post by Brad Guzan.
Villa had their own opportunities to steal all three points at the death with Leandro Bacuna forcing Costel Pantilimon into a save and in the final minute of stoppage time Christian Benteke could only find the side netting as the spoils were shared.
Both sides were forced to freshen things up from their Boxing Day defeats as Aston Villa recalled Andreas Weimann for the suspended Gabby Agbonlahor and Charles N’Zogbia was named in the starting line-up in place of defender Jores Okore, who dropped down to the bench.
Gus Poyet made three changes following Friday’s 3-1 defeat to Hull with Sebastian Coates replaced by Wes Brown and Wickham returning from suspension. Liam Bridcutt also started for the visitors with Lee Cattermole dropping down to the bench.
But the changes did not have the desired effect for managers Paul Lambert and Poyet as both sides struggled to find any rhythm during the opening stages.
With two of the three lowest scoring clubs in the league on show, goals were expected to be at a premium at Villa Park and both keepers had an easy ride in the first half.
In the fifth minute Steven Fletcher broke forward for the visitors and found some space on the edge of the penalty area, but he took far too much time over his shot and it was deflected behind for a corner.
Benteke responded for the home side just minutes later but once again his long range shot flew harmlessly over the crossbar.
With defences seemingly on top, Villa looked to have been stretched when Gomez broke free down the left, but with Fletcher waiting to pounce Brad Guzan came off his line to gather the ball cleanly.
Any joy Villa were having was coming down the right through Alan Hutton and their best moment came when Delph released the full-back into space. His cross picked out Weimann but after evading one challenge, the Austrian ran into John O’Shea, who made a vital challenge.
Wickham tried to bring Sunderland to life on his return to the side but after Billy Jones’ lay-off, his shot from the right edge of the penalty area flew wide.
Shots on target were hard to come by but just as it looked like neither side would work the goalkeeper in the first 45 minutes, N’Zogbia cut inside Jones onto his left foot but his shot was straight at Pantilimon, who held onto the ball.
It wasn’t long before Sunderland were getting in on the act and it was Wickham who fired his his right-footed shot straight at Guzan, who made a routine save to bring a drab first half to a close.
Immediately after the break Villa had an excellent chance to take the lead as Carlos Sanchez played in Weimann down the left side of the penalty area, but he lacked composure and screwed his shot wide of the far post.
However in the 50th minute, things turned sour for Villa as Delph lunged recklessly into a challenge on Gomez with his studs showing, catching the Spaniard on the ankle and referee Martin Atkinson had no choice but to show a seventh red card in 11 league meetings between these two sides.
They nearly made their numerical advantage count straight away when Adam Johnson, who was becoming increasingly influential, released Wickham but just as he was about to pull the trigger, Ron Vlaar made a vital intervention.
Poyet threw on Emanuele Giaccherini for Seb Larsson in the 57th minute, but Lambert responded with changes of his own as Jores Okore replaced Ciaran Clark at the back.
But it was Sunderland who had a grip on proceedings and Wickham turned provider for Johnson with a neat flick, but the former Manchester City man could only fire his shot straight at Guzan.
If Sunderland were going to break the deadlock it looked like Johnson was the man to do it and with just over 20 minutes to go the 27-year-old latched onto substitute Cattermole’s deflected shot, before firing in a dangerous ball into the box. After a scramble in the six-yard box the ball fell to Wickham again, but his left-foot shot drifted wide of the post.
The Black Cats were well and truly on top but Lambert gave his side a lifeline by introducing the impressive Jack Grealish for Tom Cleverley.
The 19-year-old provided an attacking outlet for the home side, curling a shot past the far post and they could have stolen all three points when Vlaar got his head to a corner in the 76th minute, but Pantilimon was equal to the effort.
With just a minute of normal time remaining, Sunderland thought they had won it when Gomez produced a 30-yard thunderbolt but Guzan just managed to get a fingertip onto the ball to tip it onto the post.
The action was not over as Aston Villa broke straight back down the other end through Benteke. The home side managed to work the ball across to Bacuna, who fired a shot goalwards but once again Pantilimon stood firm to beat the ball away.
There was one final chance and it fell to Benteke as he got on the end of Bacuna’s cross but, with Pantilimon rushing out, the Belgium international could only find the side netting as Villa increased their unbeaten run to seven matches against Sunderland.
A point apiece leaves Aston Villa and Sunderland in 13th and 14th position in the league, still five and four points above the relegation zone respectively.
Soccer Special verdict – Charlie Nicholas
“Sunderland dominated after the red card and had a few opportunities, but they were also vulnerable at the back when Villa went at them. It wasn’t a classic encounter and there were hardly any efforts on goal for long periods. In the last 10 or 15 minutes it livened up quite nicely and, if anything, Paul Lambert will be happy with a point. After the red card you take what you can get.”
Aston Villa: Guzan (8), Hutton (7), Vlaar (7), Clark (6), Cissokho (6), Cleverley (5), Delph (4), Sanchez (7), N’Zogbia (6), Weimann (5), Benteke (6).
Used subs: Okore (5), Bacuna (6), Grealish (7).
Sunderland: Pantilimon(7), Vergini(6), Jones(6), O’Shea (7), Brown (7), Bridcutt (6), Gomez (7), Larsson (5), Johnson (8), Wickham (7), Fletcher (6).
Used subs: Cattermole (6), Giaccherini (6), Buckley (6).
Man of the Match: Adam Johnson