Back in January, Hull City arrived at the Stadium of Light with both teams fighting against the drop.
The two clubs were tales of absentee ownership. struggling to get to grips with the grim reality that can follow Premier League excess.
Hull, however, just seemed to have that little bit more in their XI.
Specifically, in Seb Larsson and David Meyler, two former Black Cats in midfield with experience and craft at that level.
As it was, they were upstaged by a young midfielder making his full league debut.
Ethan Robson served notice of his intent when he won a ferocious challenge with Meyler early on.
The other aspects of his game, the neat passing, the precise left foot, were no surprise. That had been the hallmark of his game in the academy set-up but it was that tenacity which offered hope of a player capable of stepping up at senior level.
Ultimately Hull’s experience did tell over the course of the season, the Tigers pulling away from trouble as Sunderland slipped into the mire.
Like Josh Maja and Joel Asoro, Robson showed the dip and inconsistency that almost all young players suffer soon after their introduction.
The nadir came against Brentford, when Robson was hooked at half-time.
He was far from the only player to suffer that day and far from the worst offender.
No day underlined Sunderland’s incompetence like that one, Brentford better in ever department.
But Robson came again, playing well in a defeat at Craven Cottage that would prove to be Chris Coleman’s last game in charge.
Afterwards he spoke passionately about the club’s plight, his absolute determination to turn it around and his hopes that a cohort of academy talents would stay and thrive in League One.
The next wekeend, many of those players took Wolves apart in a 3-0 win.
In the end, only Joel Asoro left.
While there was doubt over the futures of many, Robson was insistent and unequivocal that he would stay right from the beginning.
Jack Ross quickly became an admirer, and in the early stages of pre-season he looked set to be a first choice midfielder. Robson, Honeyman and McGeouch looked the likely trio to face Charlton Athletic.
Circumstance consipired against him and Jack Ross admits he has been ‘unfortunate’.
He suffered with injury and before he could return, Luke O’Nien and Max Power arrived.
Lee Cattermole stayed and hit a golden vein of form.
Bali Mumba played with maturity well beyond his players.
But Robson has never been far from Ross’ thoughts. He is one of a few players in the squad who plays naturally on the left and while his game is predominantly about finesse, he also offers a touch more height than most other midfield options.
That skillset was on full show for 44 encouraging minutes against Carlisle United.
Competition for Robson is stiff, but he can still make a real impact this year.
At 21, time is on his side and it is hard not think about Robson when Lee Cattermole’s comments resonated so clearly this week.
Good on the ball but tenacious and with the club at heart, his arrival would be one of the most heartening stories of the season.
Sunderland’s midfield options mean this might not quite prove to be the breakthrough campaign it once looked like it could be.
But he could still play a big part in a promotion campaign, and make good on that commitment he showed at Craven Cottage when the club was in one of its darkest hours.
That would be something to savour.