Not quite the perfect start, but an encouraging one nevertheless.
There are creases to be ironed out, improvements to be made.
Defensively Sunderland looked questionable, in attack they are still building partnerships. That will be the case for a few weeks yet as player turnover increases.
They were a different animal, however, as Simon Grayson promised.
There was no questioning the endeavour and the fans responded in fine fashion, this arena feeling like a stadium again.
A point was hard earned and perhaps unfortunate, Lewis Grabban's penalty cancelling out Bradley Johnson's early goal.
Though the crowd was thin, the atmosphere crackled as it has not done for many a month.
The response from the side was encouraging, starting on the front foot in a 4-4-2 formation. Players who had looked so lethargic last weekend were winning second balls and causing problems.
Lee Cattermole was at his snarling best in midfield, Aiden McGeady dangerous from the left and the lively George Honeyman justifying his surprise selection on the right.
It was almost the dream start when Lewis Grabban played Honeyman through with a fine pass. Honeyman chipped Scott Carson in the Derby goal, but Andre Wisdom did superbly to race back and block McGeady’s follow-up. Grabban met that ballooning clearance at the back post, but could only volley over.
The mood was noticeably different, even if the defence, such an issue in pre-season, still looked nervous. Johnny Russell got inside Brendan Galloway too easily, his cross deflected to the back post where Bradley Johnson fired home to give the Rams a lead they didn’t deserve. It was almost two soon after, Jason Steele fortunate that when he fumbled Tom Huddlestone’s tame drive, he was able to gather moments before Chris Martin turned in the goal.
Sunderland looked uncertain at the back throughout, particularly on the left flank where Russell had Galloway back-pedalling all too regularly.
The Black Cats responded well, however, and only a superb save from Scott Carson prevented Lee Cattermole levelling with a volley from just inside the area.
Sunderland continued to threaten and apply real territorial pressure, forcing the crucial error on 41 minutes when Jacob Butterfield fell in the box and moved the ball with his arm. Lewis Grabban made no mistake, rolling the ball into the bottom corner.
The crowd stood to applaud Sunderland off the field at the break, and they began the second half in much the same vein. A cross from the left flank fell for James Vaughan in the box, but his half-volley drifted inches wide.
Derby offered a reminder of their threat minutes later when a corner was headed goalwards by Richard Keogh. Cattermole did well to clear off the line.
The captain was a talismanic presence for Sunderland, and came so close to setting up the second. Breaking up the play just inside Derby’s half, he broke free and slid the ball across the box for Lewis Grabban. The striker took a touch to move the ball past the defender, but could only rattle the woodwork with his effort.
From there, the Black Cats began to flag and Derby grew in confidence. Russell continued to do damage as he roamed infield, and Chris Martin looked set to put the Rams ahead with 20 minutes to play, only to slip and slice his effort over the bar.
The game ebbed and flowed to a conclusion, Grayson surprisingly opting against making any substitutions.
Cattermole could have scored but couldn't quite sort out his feet in the box, while Huddlestone fired just wide at the other end.
A fine contest, and a result that perhaps flattered the visitors.