Sunderland will do well, someone said, to top last season’s drama. It’ll be boring then, suggested another.
They might settle for that. Ordinary would be putting it more kindly. So it was on Saturday, to a degree.
A Premier League opening-day 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion wasn’t awful. It wasn’t exactly scintillating, either. Ordinary about sums it up. They’ll take that.
The Black Cats had lost their last five visits to the Hawthorns, conceding 13 goals and scoring just one.
So a point on this road can be valued, and though unable to build on a fifth-minute lead, courtesy of Lee Cattermole you’d have taken that beforehand, moreover given a contentious penalty and had you known you’d be a goal down with as many minutes left.
Performance mirrored result, too.
Gus Poyet was disappointed by the “technical disaster” and poor passing which invited the Baggies on to the front foot as the first half wore on.
Yet pressing higher up the pitch after half-time, with more “aggression” and avoiding capitulation once behind, he was encouraged by his side’s response through the latter stages.
These are early days, also.
Patrick van Aanholt was good, adding much-needed pace in defence. He made amends for an error permitting Saido Berahino’s second goal by setting up Sebastian larsson’s equaliser.
Jack Rodwell showed the odd flourish but remains rusty, Will Buckley had little chance to impress, but Jordi Gomez made his mark with a perfectly-weighted slide-rule pass to help create that late leveller.
More newcomers are anticipated, this work in progress goes on. Commendably, Poyet remains committed to – howsoever the risk – playing possession football, passing to feet in tight areas and deep, under pressure.
Sunderland still want for a touch of the unknown, for someone able to conjure something from nothing. They can be a touch predictable at times, functional.
Where might the magic emerge?
From Cattermole? Evidently, on Saturday. The midfielder had failed to score in five years until April, and prolifically doubled his Black Cats account after five minutes in the Black Country.
Larsson’s deep free-kick from the right found Wes Brown – playing right-back with Santiago Vergini inexplicably absent – peeling off at the back post and his header goalwards was half-cleared to the edge of the box, where Cattermole took a touch and put his laces through a right-foot shot which beat Ben Foster’s outstretched left hand into the top corner of the net.
Alas, that “technical disaster” ensued, as though the visitors had interrupted their own gameplan by scoring and did not know quite how to improvise.
On came the hosts, Sebastien Pocognoli and Chris Brunt firing narrowly wide from distance, Berahino high into the side-netting and Vito Mannone – winning the nod for now over Costel Pantilimon – pushing a Craig Gardner effort over the crossbar.
Sunderland did check the flow when Valentin Roberge headed inches off target from a Larsson set-piece, but on 42 minutes the Baggies’ dominance paid off - albeit in controversial circumstances.
Evading former teammate Cattermole, for once, Gardner fed Victor Anichebe in the box.
He rolled Roberge, and though the defender was culpable – any tug of an opponent’s shirt is asking for trouble – the burly striker needed scant encouragement to go to ground.
Soft, Alan Irvine admitted. Poyet took the Fifth. Berahino took the penalty, low to Mannone’s right.
Yet that and the interval contrived to have a positive impact on Sunderland, who improved thereafter.
Getting a grip on midfield, Cattermole to the fore, West Brom’s previous waves of attack foundered. Connor Wickham – wide left – should have scored from a Larsson corner but stabbed wide and Steven Fletcher, easing his way back, had a header correctly ruled out for offside.
Then, just as they seemed in comfort, they conceded.
On 74 minutes the newly-tightened central area briefly opened up, allowing Graham Dorrans a pot-shot at Mannone.
He pushed the ball wide, where Gardner retrieved possession, and hung one up for Berahino to capitalise on a dozing van Aanholt and tap in from close range.
Poyet feared the worst, feared a repeat of past capitulations – but his team is stronger now and more resilient for last season’s experience and blessed, as such, by greater belief.
So, with five minutes left, Gomez threaded van Aanholt to the left byline and his cutback was steered in by Larsson, opening up his body to guide the ball beyond Foster and claim for his side a deserved share of the spoils.