Goals from substitute James Vaughan and George Honeyman inside the final ten minutes sent Albion to another disappointing afternoon for the Brewers at the Pirelli Stadium.
Vaughan headed home from close range from a corner helped on by Lee Cattermole and Honeyman was on the spot to convert a cross from another substitute , Joel Asoro, to hand Chris Coleman his first win as Sunderland boss and inflict a sixth successive home defeat on the Brewers.
Nigel Clough opted for two changes from the side that earned a gritty point at Brentford. Both young substitutes that made an impact in the second half at Griffin Park were rewarded with starts. Will Miller came in on the left side of midfield as Matty Lund found himself on the bench and Joe Sbarra, having provided the assist for Ben Turner's equaliser was deployed just behind lone striker Marvin Sordell in a 4-4-1-1. The unlucky man to miss out was Kyle McFadzean as both Toms, Naylor and Flanagan stayed in the side and Lucas Akins was asked to deputise at right back.
In a game that had the feeling of a relegation six-pointer about it Albion certainly started on the front foot with both Miller and Sbarra keen to get involved again. A good early from ex-Spurs man Miller fed Scannell out on the right but his shot was delayed long enough to a Sunderland shirt to block him. A Matty Palmer corner saw Akins rise well at the near post on six minutes but his header was always going over the top of Robbin Ruiter's goal.
Sunderland were struggling to find any real forward momentum and it was Albion pressing again on 14 minutes with skipper Luke Murphy opting to go for goal on 13 minutes, his effort deflecting off a Sunderland man to wrong foot Ruiter but go the wrong side of the post.
Having taken a while to settle, the visitors started to exert some pressure on the Burton back line and it was former Everton left back Bryan Oviedo causing problems with a low drilled centre that could have gone anywhere when it cannoned back out off Naylor and a hurriedly taken shot shortly afterwards flew well wide of Stephen Bywater's goal. Striker Lewis Grabban haedad a swift counter attack when Albion failed to hold the ball up in attack but his decision to go for goal from 30 plus yards out failed to produce a goal as Bywater ounced on the ball at the second attempt.
Miller cut inside to good effect and fired straight at Ruiter before Callum McManaman tricked his way into the box before fired a deflected effort from a tight angle into the side netting.
Grabban wasnt the only one taking the long range approach, Irish international Aiden McGeady sending a swerving effort just wide with Bywater at full stretch to see it go past his post. Scannell then turned on the skill at the other end skipping easily past Oviedo and around John O'Shea, his low cross unfortunately hitting a Sunderland man before going out for a corner.
Albion's patient build up almost conjured up the opening goal on 44 minutes as Scannell was fed the ball on the right and his cross was met by Sbarra who could not quite steer the ball on target. Sordell, moments later, opted for a direct approach and had Ruiter scrambling as his low shot fizzed just wide of the post.
The Brewers had produced arguably the better chances in the first period but went in level at the end of a keenly contested first half where chances had been at a premium.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Sunderland
The second half got off to something of a frenetic start as both sides tried to up their game. Oviedo quickly won a free kick after being nudged over but it was Albion, again, looking the more creative and threatening. The best chance fell to Miller with a neat touch inside his man before chipping a measured effort justover.
It was the last action for the youngster who had to be replaced by Joe Mason just before the hour mark having gone down on the half way with an injury.
Sunderland upped their game and began to threaten more than they had previously. Grabban's cross to the far post was headed back across goal by McGeady, Albion hastily clearing their lines. Grabban then went closest yet for the visitors turning a low cross from McManaman towards goal, only the legs of Bywater preventing him from opening the scoring.
Further changes saw Sean Scannell and later Sbarra leave the action with Jamie Allen and McFadzean sent on to try and swing the game Albion's way. Having weathered a heavy shower that slickened up the playing surface and a period of Sunderland pressure it was Albion who went close again as Turner rose high at the back post to head into the path of Sordell, the Albion striker hooking a left foot effort just over the bar.
Sunderland continued to look a threat and they finally got the breakthrough on 84 minutes via a set piece. A corner from the right was flicked on by Lee Cattermole allowing VAUGHAN to stoop and head home.
Having left it late to take control they sealed the points two minutes from time as substitute Joel Asoro was able to deliver a cross that was emphatically finished by HONEYHMAN.
Albion had previous little time left to gather themselves as a game they had looked comfortable in slipped out of their grasp.