David Moyes walked away from the Etihad without a point but with a clear direction of where he wants to take Sunderland.
His side battled well against a Manchester City side led for the first time by Pep Guardiola.
There was a party atmosphere in the stadium as the game kicked off with fans expecting Barcelona-style passing and movement from the first minute.
Sunderland were in the role of party poppers with a focus on endeavour and discipline, and they would have pulled off the task if it wasn't for a late own goal.
But after the game, Moyes was keen to point out that he doesn't see his side playing the battling underdogs long term and wouldn't mind bringing his own free-flowing football to Wearside.
Moyes said: "It was gut-wrenching because we did a great job of containing them as best we could. The players did a great job. We had a bit of a game plan and knew we wouldn't have an awful lot of the ball. We had just about done the job but just about isn't enough. I'm disappointed with the way we defended the second goal, we backed off too much.
"Overall, I thought the players did well. I don't want to pat them on the back for losing but I think they deserve a pat on the back for the way they stuck at their job and kept going and came very close to getting a result today.
"I've just said to get a result we have to play at that level of intensity. I want us to have more of the ball. We didn't do well enough with the ball when we got it. I want us to give the crowd something to shout about. So I'm hoping to do that. But most of all I need to build on what happened here with Sam (Allardyce). We've got to keep the momentum going."
Moyes was pleased with the full debuts of Lynden Gooch and Donald Love and said he is expecting more from them as they settle into the side.
But he wasn't sure about captain John O'Shea continuing in the role of holding midfielder as he covered for a string of injuries, and he will be looking to bring in a player to fill that role.
Moyes added: "I'd like to say it's a one off. What we have are injuries. It looks like (Lee) Cattermole may need a hernia operation.
"It was great he did it. I had no worries because of his experience and because of the type of guy he is. But it is one area we need to strengthen."