We could get used to this Friday football. Finish work and head to town, a couple of pints and a game played at a level Sunderland can compete at. Not a bad night was it?
Sunderland 1 vs Derby County 1
We're off. A point on the board and Sunderland are sitting pretty in third place in the Championship until tea time tonight.
A 29,000-plus crowd littered the Stadium of Light and aside from those folks whose new season cards didn't work, all of a red-and-white persuasion have settled their nerves and concluded we might just enjoy this new term a little.
An air of excitement tinged with a little trepidation enveloped Wearside last night ahead of Sunderland's maiden Championship point against Derby County.
Sunderland proved a point
In the end, Simon Grayson's side proved a point after a disastrous build-up had included a drunken rant calling out teammates who couldn't give a **** and a thrashing by Celtic on an afternoon seven days ago which was supposed to have been a celebration.
With a Sunderland squad being rebuilt on a shoestring, Derby were a decent enough side to benchmark Simon Grayson's progress. The Black Cats competed with Rowett's Rams and dominated large portions of the game and appear to have added a couple of bodies who possess enough quality to give most Championship sides something to think about.
If Darron Gibson had aired the conclusion most of Sunderland reached months ago, the eleven that took to the pitch proved they have sufficient bottle and pride to battle for the still hideous red-and-white shirt of the club which employs them.
Derby set the level
Truth be told, Derby look more mid-table occasional play-off flirters than Championship top six in the guise in which they turned up last night. No great shakes, the Rams possess a few good players padded out with sufficient plodders to journey around the grounds which make up England's second-tier.
An inflated sense of their own prospects, Derby fans arrived at the Stadium of Light convinced a capitalising on Sunderland's troubles was theirs for the taking. Aside from the goalie, a centre-half, a lively midfielder and a Czech attacker brought on mid-way through the second half, the Rams did not possess much more to test the Black Cats.
Curious lack of substitutions
Yet on that same subject, whilst Gary Rowett brought on Matej Vydra to give it a bash in the final twenty-five minutes of the game, Simon Grayson appeared to become possessed by the ghosts of his Sunderland predecessors in freezing when it came to assessing options from the bench.
Sunderland could have won the game with fresh legs, though equally all too aware that defeat would open up further festering wounds in the north east this weekend, Grayson entered dare-not-lose mode and brought on no substitutes.
A trait which has befuddled his predecessors, much more of that and most will begin to question Grayson's tactical flexibility - a question mark which has hovered over him in previous jobs.
Still, his team labouring in certain quarters from about the hour mark, being on top in a game and watching individual legs deaden without enacting a change was an odd quirk in an otherwise routine-enough evening.
Lack of options
Lee Cattermole was the pick of the Sunderland bunch and probably neatly categorises Grayson's reticence. Dominant in midfield, Catts will be feeling his efforts this morning as his manager did not dare replace him.
Imagine the headlines though had Sunderland lost after replacing the evening's leader, Lee Cattermole, with the pariahical Darron Gibson. Grayson's frozen indecision or bold sticking-it-out was perhaps understandable.
Whilst the Black Cats boss has performed wonders on a zilch-budget so far to fashion a side which looks like it will be able to give the Championship a bash, Grayson still needs two or three decent additions.
Watmore and McNair will provide him with some of it when they return but Sunderland still need a target man striker and a solid second-tier centre half. A left-back is also a requirement as Brendan Galloway continues to prove it really isn't his position. Bryan Oviedo will replace him once fit but the Costa Rican has a dismal injury record and can likely only be relied upon to play half a season.
The sale of Jeremain Lens for £4m might help but it won't bring in everything Grayson needs. Ellis Short was spotted in unconfirmed reports outside the ground last night. His manager needs to be knocking on the American's door before he flees again.
£10m will sort out this squad and offer a promotion prospect. Ever keen to bag a bargain though, if Short called it for £8m in cash right now, we're gonna have a good season.