Sunderland started their first season in the Championship since the 2006-7 campaign against a well-organised Derby County side.
This was a good test for the Wearside outfit as they came up against a team with a lot of second tier experience.
Although they didn’t win the match, they did manage to take a point and the performance gives them something to build on over the coming weeks.
The away side were solid, but they lacked pace and dynamism in attack.
Here are three things that we learnt from Friday night’s match…
There were signs of encouragement for Sunderland
After their convincing defeat to Celtic in pre-season, there were a lot of people that thought Sunderland would be easily beaten at the Stadium of Light, but that wasn’t the case. They gave a good showing of themselves and had the better of the match for long periods.
The defence remained a weakness and they gave up a goal without much of a fight, but Simon Grayson will be able to improve their organisation during the coming weeks.
Lee Cattermole looked back to his best and delivered an all-action performance in the middle of the park. There was evidence that Lewis Grabban and James Vaughan could develop into a good strike partnership at this level.
The latter may not have got on the scoresheet, but his work rate is exactly what Sunderland need. They haven’t had many players that give everything on the pitch, but Vaughan certainly fits that description.
Grayson will want a couple more signings before the window closes, with a creative central midfielder needed. If he gets them, the Black Cats could surprise a few this season.
Derby need to replace Tom Ince
The concern going into the match was that Derby County hadn’t sufficiently replaced Tom Ince and their attacking performance provided indisputable proof of that.
Sunderland’s defenders were full of nerves when they were forced to defend in their own box, but the Rams didn’t put them on the back foot enough. They lacked a quick attacker that could run at defenders and get them to commit themselves to a challenge. Their build-up play was too one-paced and that prevented them from creating many clear-cut chances.
Gary Rowett has managed to get Derby well organised and they will be a team that competes in the top half of the division, but they need more quality in the final third to push on for the top six.
There was a report from the Derby Telegraph that stated the club have an interest in Preston North End winger Callum Robinson. Although he may not have the star quality of Ince, he would provide pace and directness to the attack.
If they don’t replace last season’s top scorer, a top six place will be beyond them, based on this match.
The Sunderland fans need to stay with the club
It seems churlish to compare Sunderland to Newcastle last season, as there aren’t many similarities between the two relegations, but the Black Cats could learn from their local rivals when it comes to supporting the team.
The attendance at the Stadium of Light was less than 30,000 and it made for a sorry sight on the television.
Supporters will rightfully talk about the decline of their football club, which has caused the loss of support. However, this is the time to get behind the players and do their bit in helping their club get back to the Premier League.
The players won’t benefit from playing in a half-empty stadium, while the image of the club will be damaged. Grayson will be hoping that he can win the fans over and this performance would have helped in that as the players did work extremely hard, which can’t be said about a lot of recent Sunderland teams.
A drop to the Championship may be a step back, but they will win more games and it will be more fun to be a supporter. Given their history and size as a club, they can be a real force at this level.
To become that, they need the fans to be behind them. Attendances have to improve.