ROBERTO De Fanti took a breather from the manic nature of the January transfer window to cast his gaze over those already waiting in the wings for a chance under Gus Poyet.
But the Sunderland Director of Football will not have been the most intrigued spectator at Eppleton CW last night.
The Under-21s’ 1-1 draw against Stoke City provided crucial evidence for those clubs outside the Premier League looking to boost their squads with loan deals before the end of the January transfer window.
It is a route Sunderland remain big fans of after striker Mikael Mandron joined League Two Fleetwood Town last week.
And there were plenty of potential takers for rookie talent in East Durham last night.
Hartlepool managerial duo Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett, Carlisle boss Graham Kavanagh and Hibernian’s ex-Sunderland manager Terry Butcher were all in the stands looking at the Black Cats’ promising protegees.
But after an end-to-end first 20 minutes, they witnessed a war of attrition.
During a frenetic opening, Sunderland’s front three looked to be seriously in the mood with Craig Lynch linking the play well as a central striker, while the lively Duncan Watmore and Charia Mavrias buzzed around him.
But once Stoke got to grips with the Black Cats front-line, the two sides cancelled each other out and with chances at a premium, Kevin Ball’s side were forced to settle for a point in their first competitive game for more than a month.
Sunderland were ahead after just 40 seconds when George Honeyman picked out Lynch, in behind the Stoke back-line, and the forward kept his cool to lift the ball delicately over outrushing goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.
But the lead only lasted until the eighth minute after powerful Potters frontman James Alabi was allowed to scuff a shot on the turn, 10 yards out, which took a deflection and beat Sunderland stopper Jordan Pickford at the near post.
Lynch went close to a second in the 15th minute when he curled a low shot inches wide of the post from the edge of the area.
Honeyman then planted a low shot towards the far corner from 20 yards, only for Bachmann to turn it around the post at the death.
At the other end, Alabi unleashed a powerful right-footed drive from an acute angle, which was battered away by Pickford.
After that exhilarating start though, the game quietened down, with Stoke getting to grips with Sunderland’s front three.
The second half began in similar fashion, with Sunderland forced into a change just after the hour when Alex Gorrin limped off with what looked to be a nasty ankle injury.
Pickford produced an excellent save in the 67th minute to keep the scores level after impressive central midfielder Lucas Dawson curled in an inswinging free-kick from the right which was met by a glancing header from Karim Rossi.
The ball was heading towards the far corner, but the stopper managed to pluck the ball out of the air to his left.
Substitute David Moberg Karlsson made a bright early impression, driving inside from the right and hitting a powerful low shot straight at Bachmann from the edge of the area.
His fellow summer arrival El-Hadji Ba went much closer in the 76th minute when he met Scott Harrison’s cross from the left with a stabbed right-footed shot which dropped just wide.
Ball said: “You’e got to give credit to Stoke. If they hadn’t worked as hard as they did, we’d have won four or five.
“We didn’t take our chances and the goal we conceded was too soon after we scored.
“As the second half wore on, the tactics they employed to slow it down and mess it up, I quite enjoyed watching it because it was good for the development of our players to face a team doing that.
“It’s not always going to go your way. When it is like that and it gets rough and tumble, you’ve got to still trying to produce football.”
SUNDERLAND: Pickford, Cartwright (Mitchell 70), Ferguson, Ba, Harrison, Egan, Watmore, Gorrin (Oliver 62), Lynch, Honeyman, Mavrias (Moberg Karlsson 70). Subs not used: Dixon, McNamee.
STOKE: Bachmann, Wheeler, O’Reilly, Dawson, Grant, Sanders, Thomas, Ward, Alabi, Lecygne (Monlouis 75), Rossi. Subs not used: Westley, Eve, Taylor, Richards. Booked: Lecygne (58), Thomas (90)