HISTORY may not have repeated itself but, just like 14 years ago, a performance at Deepdale will have given Sunderland’s long-suffering supporters hope that better times lie ahead.

It was back in 2003 that the newly relegated Black Cats stopped the rot with a 2-0 win over Preston North End.

The Sunderland manager who oversaw that success, Mick McCarthy, had given the current incumbent of the Stadium of Light hot-seat a call in the lead up to his first return to the club he left in the summer.

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Simon Grayson may not have welcomed seeing his predecessor’s number flash up on his phone; not when McCarthy’s Ipswich Town team had just added to the Black Cats’ considerable woes.

But the former Sunderland boss’s words of support, and reminder of what happened after that victory at Preston in August 2003, boosted Grayson.

And, while was unable to engineer a similar success, Grayson will have left his old stamping ground confident this could represent a corner turned.

It would be fanciful to suggest that this Black Cats team can follow in the footsteps of the McCarthy side that went on to finish third in their first season in the Championship following relegation.

After all, they remain second from bottom and have now gone nine games without a league win.

But the display Grayson’s men produced on Saturday was light years from what they served up in the humiliating defeat at McCarthy’s Ipswich.

Preston are now unbeaten in eight matches and, despite conceding two goals in a league game for the first time this season, they still boast the best defensive record in the division.

But they were second best for large periods of the first half and could have no complaints that they trailed at the break to George Honeyman’s third goal of the campaign.

But equally impressive was Sunderland’s response to falling behind to two quick fire goals in a frenetic spell after the restart.

The Black Cats hit back immediately through Aiden McGeady and, with the fit-again Duncan Watmore impressing off the bench in his first appearance in nine months, they could have won it with more help from the officials.

“When you lose a game by the scoreline we did on Tuesday night you want a reaction from the players and the big thing about us was we looked a real decent team,” said Grayson, who made five changes to the side that started against Ipswich, including dropping Lamine Kone.

“First half, we were worthy winners going into half-time. Second half, when we had to dig deep, we did do.

“Then other decisions could have gone our way. I think Watmore’s is a penalty when he went through, got the other side of Ben Davies, and was clipped.

“And their keeper, Chris Maxwell, should have got a card of some description as he has quite clearly taken Duncan out and quite clearly hand-balled it.

“But I was pleased with the response and what the players did,”

Honeyman and Lynden Gooch had already gone close before the academy graduates combined to open the scoring in the 28th minute, the latter back healing the ball into the path of the former, who fired past Maxwell.

Josh Harrop, Grayson’s last signing in charge of Preston, restored parity in the 55th minute with a free kick that took a touch off James Vaughan on its way in.

And two minutes later Jordan Hugill lashed in an unstoppable volley in off the bar.

Grayson, who had been afforded a warm reception by the Preston faithful before kick-off, was taunted with cries of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’.

But that was nothing compared to the stick McGeady received after he brought Sunderland level to make it three goals in the space of five crazy minutes.

The winger, who was booed throughout despite being named Preston’s player of the year last season while on loan from Everton, steered a fine shot into the bottom corner before racing toward the home end to celebrate wildly.

It had echoes of Emmanuel Adebayor’s famous celebration for Manchester City against his former club Arsenal.

And Grayson quipped: “He took the pressure off me to be fair so I’m quite happy with that. I said to him he looked like Adebayor at City.

“Why shouldn’t you celebrate? He was unfairly taunted, I thought, because he was exceptional last year.”

While Alan Browne hit the post for Preston soon after, Sunderland finished the stronger and only a brilliant block by Davies prevented Lee Cattermole from turning in a Watmore cutback.

But, while their team could not achieve the win they deserved and needed, the reaction of the 3,000 travelling fans at the end said it all.

“It was superb backing,” said Grayson. “The fans came in their numbers again and you can certainly never criticise our supporters because they travel up and down the country, whether it’s 750 on a Tuesday night at Ipswich or just short of 3,000 here.”