The Serbia international struck with an 83rd-minute header to cancel out Jermain Defoe’s first-half opener and deny the Black Cats a seventh successive victory in the fixture in front of a raucous crowd of 52,311 at St James’ Park.
In the process, he handed new manager Rafael Benitez a first point since he replaced Steve McClaren, but a 1-1 draw was less than either side needed and both remain inside the relegation zone and in severe danger of slipping into the Championship.
For the second game in a row, Sam Allardyce was left to bemoan the loss of two precious points in an away fixture with his team having had the better of much of the contest.
The two sides ran out knowing defeat was simply not an option as a result of Saturday’s victories for Norwich and Swansea, the clubs they are desperately trying to haul back into the mix, and acutely aware of the price of failure.
They did so with Newcastle fans bemoaning the lack of a specialist goalscorer in their side and their Sunderland counterparts installing faith in the one man in their squad who has done just that throughout his career.
In the event, their contrasting expectations were fulfilled during the opening 45 minutes as the Magpies largely failed to trouble Black Cats goalkeeper Vito Mannone and Defoe, having fluffed two earlier opportunities, made no mistake when presented with a third.
The visitors settled far quicker and had greater purpose from the off, with the former England striker firing over on the turn after just three minutes and then into the side-netting after meeting Jack Rodwell’s cross 16 minutes later.
In the meantime, Newcastle keeper Rob Elliot had to turn over Rodwell’s powerful header from a Wahbi Khazri free-kick and Lamine Kone headed over from the resulting corner.
Benitez’s men finally made a mark when Andros Townsend forced Mannone to parry a well-struck drive, but too much of their best work ended in disappointment.
They were made to pay with a minute of the half remaining when Khazri caught out the home defence by playing a corner to Fabio Borini on the edge of the box and although his thumping strike was brilliantly saved by Elliot, the ball eventually fell to Defoe, who fired home through a crowded penalty area.
Yann M’Vila preserved Sunderland’s lead three minutes after the restart when he hacked Ayoze Perez’s shot off the line after Mitrovic had flicked on Townsend’s corner, and Mitrovic glanced a header into Mannone’s arms from Moussa Sissoko’s cross five minutes later.
But Elliot had to be at his best to keep out Patrick van Aanholt’s stinging 58th-minute effort as the visitors responded, and Benitez moved to change it by sending on attacking midfielder Siem de Jong for left-back Jack Colback.
However, it was Mitrovic who eventually did the trick, climbing high at the back post to head Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross past the helpless Mannone.
Elliot, Janmaat (Anita 71),Mbemba, Lascelles, Colback (De Jong 62), Shelvey, Wijnaldum, Townsend (Cisse 76), Perez ,Sissoko, Mitrovic.
Mannone, Yedlin, Kone, Kaboul (O’Shea 73), Van Aanholt, Kirchhoff (Cattermole 84), Borini, M’Vila, Rodwell, Khazri (N’Doye 75), Defoe.
Martin Atkinson (Yorkshire).