CHRIS COLEMAN said a clash of Wear and Tees isn’t a derby, while Tony Pulis reckons it was.

However you want to view Middlesbrough’s visit to Sunderland, it certainly felt like there was more at stake than three points in the Championship.

Two red cards, six goals and an atmosphere, despite a half-empty Stadium of Light, that had more spice than your average game there this season. Newcastle United might be Sunderland’s major local rivals, but a meeting with Boro still served up an action-packed thriller.

The problem for both was that, despite the entertainment, the twists and the turns, the dramatic draw was not the sort of result either side could have done with for different reasons at opposite ends of the Championship table.

Middlesbrough will feel most frustrated, having let the lead slip twice in the second half when a victory would have seen them climb into the play-off spots ahead of this Friday’s visit of Leeds United to the Riverside Stadium.

Sunderland, on the other hand, can take enormous heart from the fact they dug deep to earn a last-gasp draw when previously they might have ended up defeated – even if they remain rooted at the foot of the division.

Time is running out for Sunderland to climb away from trouble, so it was at least satisfying for Coleman to see the four-point gap to safety not increase because of Callum McMananman’s equaliser deep into stoppage time.

It was the second time Sunderland had come from behind in the game because Jonny Williams had also levelled things up earlier in the second half, when Middlesbrough had taken the lead courtesy of two goals in four minutes.

Williams said: “It shows we are still fighting. It was the craziest game I have ever been involved in. We couldn’t believe it when we went 2-1 down so early in the second half. I felt we matched them through the whole game.

“We really wanted to win and somehow we found ourselves in difficult circumstances again at 3-2 down, which was undeserved. If we are honest it is mistakes that we can avoid that are costing us. We have scored three and not won and it is the third time that has happened this season and that is probably why we are down there.

“I think it is a step forward for us from a mental point of view because we have not been good at getting back into games when we are trailing.

“The fans were great even when we were down, they were right behind us and saw something in us which they liked. I thought we were the better team.”

Far too many times this season the Stadium of Light has seemed soulless; Middlesbrough fans will empathise because the Riverside endured a similar period following their relegation in 2009.

Despite the empty seats, that was not the case on Saturday, with both sets of fans inside appreciative of a game that served up plenty of incidents and talking points, even if some of the quality on show was poor at times.

In terms of spectacle a Sunderland opening goal was arguably the best thing that could have happened, and they earned that after a positive start – although Middlesbrough could be accused of gifting them that in the 11th minute.

Adam Matthews’ long throwwas poorly dealt with at the near post by George Friend and Ben Gibson.

Josh Maja, included because of Ashley Fletcher’s ineligibility, flicked the ball on with his back. Shotton and Daniel Ayala should still have got it cleared from the six-yard box, and yet the smaller frame of Joel Asoro took control and poked the finish into the net.

The fact McManaman’s late equaliser also arrived from a set-piece, when he was allowed to coast in undetected at the back post to cushion a volley over the line from Bryan Oviedo’s corner, infuriated the Middlesbrough players and Pulis afterwards.

Ayala said: “We have to defend set pieces better. I think we were lazy.

“It was a crazy game but to come from a goal down to take the lead twice we should be winning that. I am really disappointed.

“It was a derby, a bit different. When we were up we knew it wasn’t won so we have to be a lot better than we were. To be honest we do feel like we shot ourselves in the foot because we have to defend better.

“It was the three points we worry about, not the position in the table yet, so it’s disappointing to concede the late goal. We have another game Friday, so we have to move on.”

After Asoro’s opener it was Sunderland who looked like they had shot themselves in the foot when Jake Clarke-Salter’s mistimed lunge wiped out Adama Traore, rather than taking the ball. That red card was just 12 minutes after the opener and halted the flow of the home side.

But Middlesbrough, who could have levelled when Traore directed an effort over the bar, found themselves level in terms of numbers again 13 minutes later when the Spanish winger raised his arms in an off-the-ball incident with Oviedo, although Pulis blamed the Costa Rican too.

Traore will now miss the next four games because it was his second red card of the season, and he could face an even lengthier punishment if referee Tim Robinson includes his furious reaction to being sent off – when he remonstrated with the fourth official – in his report and the FA decide to charge him.

Ayala said: “Adama will be a miss. We have a big squad and we have to show we can cope. Of course he is angry, he knows he will be out for three or four games now. He is just annoyed and frustrated.”

A 10 v 10 made for an enthralling second half and Middlesbrough looked to have taken command when Bamford’s first in the 49th minute, a brilliant turn and finish from Friend’s knock down, was followed by Grant Leadbitter’s penalty four minutes later after Britt Assombalonga was brought down by Lee Camp. Oviedo’s hesitancy in clearing was to blame.

But Sunderland hit back almost immediately. Oviedo made amends by beating Stewart Downing before rolling a ball back for Williams to latch on to and side-foot low inside the near post.

But Middlesbrough reclaimed the lead with 22 minutes left. Bamford again coasted in behind the Sunderland defence and flicked the ball around Camp before finding the empty net.

Sunderland, though, didn’t give up. They kept plugging away and the introduction of McManaman gave them some extra legs when needed.

He had already forced a save out of Randolph before he did beat him with his late volley, and he then charged towards his former West Brom boss Pulis, who hardly played him, to celebrate.

Williams said: “I really believe we have match-winners in this side and if we can get as many on the pitch as we can, and be more solid in defence, that can serve us well.

“There will be tough times between now and the end and we have to show that character. We have not lost ground. Now we have to go to Milwall and do it again. It is a point that can be massive in a few weeks’ time. We are still in touching distance.”

While the fight for survival goes on for Sunderland, Middlesbrough are still struggling to force their way into the top six.

Time is starting to run out for both.