Sunderland share the spoils with Doncaster Rovers as unbeaten run continues
Both sides were only able to muster the odd shot on target, and though the Black Cats stepped it up in the second half, they were unable to create enough to take a win that would have closed the gap more significantly on their rivals at the top of the table.
The point does extend their unbeaten run to eight games, and also saw them register their third clean sheet in a row.
They almost snatched it in the dying moments, but an excellent save from Seny Dieng earned his side a point they probably deserved.
Sunderland had come into the game eager to build on their growing momentum in League One, unbeaten in seven and with four wins from their last give.
Doncaster Rovers, though, has been in good form of their own, a recent defeat to Coventry City their only blemish on a good run that had raised their own play-off hopes.
When the two sides had met just after Christmas, Sunderland had been dominant, an emphatic victory that sparked their recent revival.
Their pressing game had unsettled the hosts and they exerted a pressure throughout the contest than Darren Moore’s side were unable to live with.
That had raised hopes of a repeat performance, particularly the way Lincoln City and Wycombe Wanderers had been so comprehensively dismantled in the early stages of the last two home games.Doncaster, though, looked an entirely different proposition right from the off.
Their starting XI featured the unfamiliar sight of former Black Cats left back Reece James lining up on the wing, but the speed and precision of their passing was superior from the off.
In central midfield Ben Sheaf and Ben Whiteman took control of the contest, winning possession back well and distributing it effectively.
Their issue was a lack of presence in the final third, too often firing crosses straight into the arms of Jon McLaughlin.
It was an opening of few chances, Sunderland unable to build any spell of possession close to their opponent’s goal. They did have the first opening of the contest, though, Joel Lynch heading into the side netting as he met a corner from Chris Maguire at the near post.
Doncaster responded in kind, defender Tom Anderson heading wide after a free kick from deep was curled in towards the penalty spot.
They should have done better just before the half hour mark after a swift break, striker Niall Ennis spotting Jon Taylor in space on the right. He gathered the ball and drive towards goal, but fired his low effort well wide of the far post.
The Black Cats looked vulnerable, and did little to trouble Seny Dieng in the Doncaster goal before the break.
Their only effort of note came when Maguire gathered the ball on the edge of the area, firing well over from distance.
The home crowd had little to excite them, but voiced their frustrations primarily with the referee James Adcock. He had drawn their ire early in the half when Maguire was brought down on the touchline by Cameron John, waving play on as the home side appealed for a free kick.
The frustration continued throughout the half and reached a crescendo just before the interval, Adcock booking Charlie Wyke for an alleged dive even though there had clearly been contact as he tried to spin away from a defender.
The away side started the second half much as they had the first, playing with intent and left frustrated when Ennis blazed an effort over the bar from just inside the box.
Sunderland at last began to stir, building a spell of pressure that almost yielded a goal when Willis overlapped on the right flank. His cross was excellent, but Maguire could only tuen his volley from close range over the bar.
The tempo was beginning to left, and the Black Cats were thankful moments later when James released Madger Gomes with a good pass.
His effort was straight at McLaughlin, but the Scot could only palm it in the direction of Taylor, who ought to have done better with his weak header the drifted comfortably wide.
Despite that, the home side were beginning to take control and should have taken the lead when Maguire sprung O’Nien free with an outstanding through ball. O’Nien looked set to fire towards the bottom corner but instead tried to cross, but no team-mate had seen it coming and Doncaster were able to clear.
Sensing a change in momentum, Parkinson threw on Kyle Lafferty and Duncan Watmore, but the home side were fortunate that as Taylor ran through onto a loose ball, he lost his footing and possession.
Sunderland spent the rest of the contest playing the majority of the contest in the opposition half, Doncaster increasingly happy to settle for a point.
The Black Cats were doing all the running but apart from a Watmore header straight at Dieng, they were unable to create much and were forced to settle for the draw.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Willis, Ozturk, Lynch, Hume; Power, Dobson; Maguire (Watmore, 71), Gooch, Wyke (Lafferty, 71)
Subs: Burge, McLaughlin, McNulty, Leadbitter, Wright
Doncaster Rovers XI: Dieng; Halliday, Anderson, Wright, James (Blair, 74); Whiteman, Sheaf; Taylor (Coppinger, 82), Gomes, John; Ennis (Watters, 88)
Subs: Lawlor, Amos, Watters, Greaves
Bookings: Wyke, 41 Halliday, 65 Ozturk, 72
Attendance: 30, 251