Sam Johnstone kept a clean sheet to preserve a point and made one vital late save to thwart substitute Ryan Noble as the visitors' usual fluency was perhaps affected by the absence of regulars such as Michael Keane, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jesse Lingard.
A muscle tweak in the warm-up for Marnick Vermijl saw Angelo Henriquez pushed into his first start as a lone central striker with Federico Macheda and Joshua King asked to work the flanks.
The Black Cats looked the likelier scorers in the first half with Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won obvious threats in attack. Wickham turned Tom Thorpe to bullet in a drive that was beaten away by Johnstone at the near post while Ji also had a shot at the United keeper.
Michele Fornasier blocked a Wickham effort and Billy Knott fired over the top as the hosts continued to ask questions of the Reds' defence. Johnstone had to be alert to push away a swerving long-range attempt by Adam Reed while Blair Adams sliced wide from Wickham's lay-off.
Joyce's side finally produced an opening a minute before the break, and it was the clearest of the half. King robbed Adams and his blistering pace took him through on goal, only to fire straight at Ben Wilson's legs from a central position.
The second half, played mostly in torrential rain, did not contain too much goalmouth action either although Johnstone almost let in Wickham but instead managed to retrieve the situation. Reed hammered a shot well wide before the Reds finally began to exert some pressure. A flash of skill from Henriquez allowed him to turn Liam Marrs and drill a low shot against Wilson following a