The point could be a precious one for Sunderland, but they will feel that this was an opportunity lost.
Daryl Murphy was unlucky when he struck the woodwork and Michael Chopra was denied by an offside flag in the first half, but Derby created little despite responding to the stinging attack by manager Paul Jewell after last weekend's defeat at Wigan.
They would have lost this one but for a goalline clearance by Hossam Ghaly that prevented Danny Higginbotham netting on his return to Pride Park.
But it was an improved performance, although Derby are running down the clock to the end of the season when they can regroup and rebuild in the summer.
Sunderland at least have a chance of staying up, but they will need to show more in front of goal than they did here.
Kenwyne Jones, a target for Derby before he moved to the north east, has pace and power but did not trouble Roy Carroll, while Murphy had few attempts at goal after his fourth minute shot that came back off the angle of post and bar.
The closest Derby came was a shot on the turn from Kenny Miller that flashed just wide in the 11th minute, but until the closing stages the rest of this game provided little entertainment on a chilly and blustery afternoon.
An inconsistent display from referee Mike Riley did not help and, although he flashed six yellow cards, there was not a bad foul in the match.
Sunderland felt that Chopra's goal should have stood although replays suggested he was just offside when he turned in Andy Reid's cross.
The game was drifting towards stalemate despite a flurry of substitutions when both teams at last began to threaten in the closing minutes.
Craig Gordon had to react quickly to punch clear and then sprinted out to nick the ball away from Miller, while Sunderland almost repeated their knack of scoring late against Derby.
This time it was Kieran Richardson who found the space to turn and drive in a low shot that Carroll did well to parry diving to his right.
The rebound fell invitingly for Higginbotham but his goalbound shot was blocked by Ghaly and that at least took Derby's points tally into double figures - scant consolation in a long, hard season.