Bradley Johnson had opened the scoring against the run of play for the Rams
Most of them knew that at this stage of the season even if they show up, their team rarely do.
Lewis Grabban earned Sunderland a draw with a penalty
Bradley Johnson had given Derby the lead against the run of play
It is now SEVEN years since the Black Cats last won a league game in August. In fact you have to go back to 2012 since the last time they secured a league victory before OCTOBER.
Yet those supporters who did attend will have been encouraged by what they saw.
New boss Simon Grayson and his side showed spirit to grab a point after going a goal down, as Lewis Grabban’s penalty cancelled out Bradley Johnson’s early strike.
Bournemouth loanee Grabban in particular showed a work rate sadly lacking at the Stadium of Light over the last year.
There was also a respectful minute’s applause to Bradley Lowery before kick-off, as a banner with a picture of the late Sunderland mascot was passed around the ground where his parents watched on.
Grayson stood in his technical area from the off, instructing his team with orders and gestures throughout.
Derby fans held up a banner in memory of young Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery
The stadium held a minute’s applause for the youngster, who died of cancer last month
Bradley’s parents, Carl and Gemma, were at the Stadium of Light
Sunderland and Derby fans unite for a minute’s applause in tribute to six-year-old cancer victim Bradley Lowery
He knew after the 5-0 pre-season embarrassment against Celtic on Saturday – which led to Darron Gibson being caught on camera branding the team “f***ing s***” – his side would need their hands held throughout.
Grayson’s men started brightly, with Rams new-boy Andre Wisdom coming to the rescue to deflect Aiden McGeady’s shot wide, before Grabban volleyed the rebound over from a tight angle.
But such has been the way at the Stadium of Light for so long, the miss was quickly punished.
Johnny Russell skinned young Brendan Galloway down the right before crossing along the six-yard box where a grateful Johnson gleefully found the net.
Managers Gary Rowett and Simon Grayson share a word ahead of kick-off
Bradley Johnson fired home from close range to put the Rams in front
It was a hammer blow for the hosts – but to their credit they showed real guts to get back in the game.
The impressive Lee Cattermole thought he had the leveller 25 minutes when blasting goalwards from ten yards, but was denied by a stunning reflex save by ex-England stopper Scott Carson.
Five minutes before the break, the equaliser did come thanks to a clumsy handball in the area by Jacob Butterfield.
Grabban had argued on the pitch with fellow new-signing James Vaughan over spot-kick duties against Celtic before the ex-Everton striker fluffed his lines for the second time in a matter of weeks.
INTERACTIVE LINE-UPS– CLICK on a player’s number below to see their stats
This time there were no discussions as Grabban confidently stepped up and slotted low to Carson’s left.
Grabban almost secured the first August league win for 2,531 days when he cracked the post early in the second period.
There was a late close call for the hosts and Gary Rowett’s men really should have netted on 74 minutes – sub Matej Vydra laid the ball on a plate for Chris Martin, but the big Scot blazed horribly over.
In the end Grayson missed the chance to become the first Cats boss to win his maiden game since Martin O’Neill.
But given the horror show of pre-season – and the prior season – a hard-fought draw was perhaps the best he and the watching fans could hope for.
Derby players protest to the referee after Jacob Butterfield conceded a penalty for handball
Grabban coolly slotted home from the spot
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Balloons released in memory of 6-year-old Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery