Sunderland boss Simon Grayson believes his side began banishing dark memories of last season’s relegation as they kicked off their Sky Bet Championship campaign with a 1-1 draw against Derby at the Stadium of Light.
Bradley Johnson threatened to heap more woe on the beleaguered Black Cats when he gave the Rams the lead early on, but Lewis Grabban equalised from the penalty spot before the break and then crashed a second-half shot against the woodwork.
Grayson, who admitted he was “shattered” after his first competitive match in charge, said: “It is going to be a slow process but we’ve got to take positive steps and tonight we gave ourselves the platform to build up.
“I haven’t got a magic wand, I can’t suddenly turn this club into a real positive, happy-go-lucky club playing free-flowing football – they’ve got to earn the right but it’s about taking those small steps.”
Grayson’s men were applauded off after an encouraging performance which the new boss believes marked a stark contrast to the widely negative reaction to some of last season’s lacklustre displays.
He added: “I am disappointed we conceded the goal but the biggest thing was we didn’t crumble. Maybe this time last year the team might have gone under but they got back on the front foot and asked lots of questions.”
Grayson confimed that he expects striker Jeremain Lens to seal his imminent departure, saying: “I think he must be very close to sealing his move to Besiktas. I know things are developing.”
Derby boss Gary Rowett praised his side’s improvement in the second half but bemoaned the missed chances from Chris Martin and David Nugent which could have earned the three points.
Rowett said: “We just couldn’t find that final finish – Chris Martin missed one when you’d perhaps have expected him to do better, and Nugent also missed a great chance.
“I just felt we needed to be braver in the first half – we weren’t brave enough and we looked a little nervy – but in the second half we showed a bit more composure.”
Rowett had no complaints over the penalty which was awarded when Jacob Butterfield handled in the box as he fell following a challenge with Billy Jones.
He added: “I can’t really argue with it, I’m not going to stand here and say it wasn’t a penalty, but it certainly wasn’t intentional. He’d moved his arm towards the ball so I can understand why it was given.”