Lewis Grabban struck from the penalty to save Sunderland from opening-night embarrassment as they began their Championship campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Derby at the Stadium of Light.
The newly-relegated Black Cats were served a stark reminder of the task that awaits them this season as it took Gary Rowett's Rams just 12 minutes to grab the lead when Bradley Johnson lashed home a loose ball in the box.
Grabban equalised just before the break after Jacob Butterfield was judged to have handled, and while Grabban also hit the bar for Sunderland, his side were fortunate when visiting striker Chris Martin wasted a glorious chance to win it late on.
For all the well-meaning bustle of two clubs expecting to find themselves in the promotion frame, the start of another competitive campaign was put in perspective by a pre-match minute's applause for Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery, who lost his battle with neuroblastoma last month.
The hosts made a bright start and George Honeyman should have done better on nine minutes when he slipped through the Rams defence but was off target with his attempted lob over goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Swathes of empty seats provided a reminder of the acrimony which greeted much of last season's relegation campaign and the work Simon Grayson knows he must undertake in order to regain the supporters' trust.
A tetchy atmosphere was not helped when the visitors stole the lead in the 12th minute, Johnny Russell's deflected ball across the box met by Johnson, who bundled it past Jason Steele for the opener.
Steele was lucky not to concede a second seven minutes later when he parried a Tom Huddlestone shot straight into the path of Butterfield, who was only denied by an intervention from Tyias Browning.
Carson did brilliantly to deny Sunderland an equaliser on 25 minutes when he blocked an Aiden McGeady effort then tipped Lee Cattermole's powerful follow-up over the bar.
After Grabban blazed over the bar, the hosts got the leveller they deserved four minutes from the break when Butterfield handled while falling in the box, and Grabban placed the spot-kick low to Carson's left.
Sunderland maintained their momentum after the break with James Vaughan prodding a good chance wide before Grabban crashed a 57th-minute shot against the upright after being set up by the impressive Cattermole.
But after a quiet spell Martin should have put Derby back in front when he was set up with a glorious chance by Matej Vydra but spooned his shot horribly over the bar from 10 yards.
Sunderland were denied a second penalty after Honeyman tangled with Curtis Davies in the box, while Rams substitute David Nugent came close to a winner in injury time.