A combination of mounting injury problems and shortage of new signings has seen David Moyes turn to youth at the start of the new season.
Donald Love, Lynden Gooch, Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair all started the Wear-Tees derby – with experienced duo Jeremain Lens and Wahbi Khazri left on the bench.
Moyes has spoken openly about wanting pace, energy and workrate in his side.
A Cristhian Stuani brace saw Middlesbrough triumph 2-1 to leave Sunderland pointless after back-to-back defeats.
Moyes felt his side deserved more and praised the youngsters – with American winger Gooch the stand-out performer after being moved to a central role.
“The attitude of the players was great,” said Moyes.
“We talked about the young players and they were full out.
“Young Gooch did terrifically in the second half, Duncan Watmore attempted to take people on.
“I thought Adnan Januzaj had some really good moments getting to the byline and beating people. I think there was an awful lot of good things to talk about.
“They tell me that the little boy Gooch, he can do two or three jobs. He can play off the sides, he can play in the middle.
“I just felt at half-time I needed to see if we could get a better control and play a bit quicker.”
Steven Pienaar, who signed a one-year deal after a successful trial, came on for the injured John O’Shea, with Jack Rodwell dropping into the centre of defence.
“I thought Steven Pienaar was terrific in the second half,” added Moyes. “We couldn’t keep the intensity up in the last 10 minutes, because we probably had no legs left.
“That was Steven’s first game – he had no pre-season games.
“Even the young boys, I just felt that we ran out of gas in the last seven, eight, nine minutes.”
Moyes, though, felt the scoreline didn’t reflect the match – insisting Middlesbrough couldn’t have had any complaints had Sunderland fought back to earn a draw.
“I thought it was hard to take because we played quite well for 30 minutes,” he added.
“We found ourselves a goal down from a really good goal.
“Could we have defended it better, could we have closed it down better? I wouldn’t disagree with that.
“After the change of John O’Shea, the last 10 minutes of the first half was probably our worst period of the game.
“They really, for the first time, caused us a few problems and they scored. We obviously didn’t defend well enough for the second goal.
“I wasn’t sure it was the right result at half-time, that’s for sure.
“We had got to the byline two or three times and hadn’t picked anybody out, which you’ve got to do. I accept that, but I thought we had as many opportunities as Middlesbrough did.
“I thought we picked up again in the second half, which I’m sure was Middlesbrough protecting their lead a little bit as well.
“If it had ended 2-2, I don’t think anybody would have had any complaints.”
The last thing Moyes needed was another injury to a centre-half, but O’Shea’s groin injury forced him off eight minutes before half-time – a key period when Boro capitalised.
Stuani scored his second – the matchwinner – on the stroke of half-time.
“We gave a lot of young boys opportunities again because of the numbers,” added Moyes.
“We lost John as well, and we didn’t really have a central midfield player left after that.
“We didn’t really have a centre-half left, either, so we were actually patched-up for a long period of the game.”
Moyes added: “O’Shea popped his groin, we think. We’ll have to assess that and see how it is.”