HERE we go again then. Sunderland played out a 1-1 draw on 15 separate occasions in League One last season, with their inability to turn promising positions into all three points the single biggest issue that resulted in them failing to win automatic promotion.

Eight games into the current campaign, and they have already racked up three more 1-1 draws, with the latest coming despite Marc McNulty firing the Black Cats into the lead after just 31 seconds.

Jack Ross can complain all he likes about his side being saddled with unrealistic expectations, but too many of the problems that plagued Sunderland last term are still evident. Yes, they have lost just once in the league this season, and have suffered just one League One home defeat during Ross’ reign.

But they remain unable to put teams to bed and seem to shrink when they find themselves in the lead rather than stamp their authority on proceedings in order to press home their advantage. It cost them in the last campaign, and is already proving damaging once again.

Last night’s game might have been different had Aiden McGeady not passed up a golden opportunity to double Sunderland’s lead when his tame first-half penalty was saved, but Rotherham had already created a succession of decent opportunities by the time Jake Hastie drilled home an equaliser shortly after the hour mark.

Ross’ decision to field Luke O’Nien in the ‘number ten’ position ahead of Chris Maguire did not work, and his side’s lack of midfield control throughout the second half was alarming. By the end, it was Sunderland rather than Rotherham that were hanging on.

How different things had been at the start, with Alim Ozturk’s alertness in the very first minute catching the Rotherham defence cold. Having been awarded a free-kick inside his own half, Ozturk spotted how high the visiting back four had pushed up the field.

His long ball over the top was perfectly-weighted for McNulty to run on to, and having controlled deftly before shrugging off Michael Ihiekwe, the Scot drew goalkeeper Daniel Iversen from his line before slotting home.

It wasn’t quite the fastest goal scored at the Stadium of Light – Daryl Murphy holds that record, having found the net after just 14 seconds against Plymouth Argyle in 2006 – but at 31 seconds, it nevertheless represented an ideal opening.

It also made it two in two games for McNulty, and while Charlie Wyke was back in the squad after suspension, with Will Grigg also available, it was surely telling that the Reading loanee retained his place in Ross’ starting line-up. Having pushed so hard to recruit his fellow countryman this summer, Ross has not taken long to shuffle him to the top of Sunderland’s attacking pecking order.

Does McNulty deserve such primacy? Perhaps not on the evidence of the stumble six minutes after his goal that prevented him breaking clear after some good work from Aiden McGeady, but anyone can be forgiven a loss of footing. For the most part, McNulty looked sharp and incisive, and as he shakes off some inevitable ring-rust following a season of inactivity at Reading, so he begins to look like the striker that tore up League Two with Coventry City a couple of seasons ago.

It helps that he has McGeady supplying him of course, and Sunderland’s mercurial Irishman produced a handful of moments that left you scratching your head and wondering why he is still plying his trade in League One.

The pick came midway through the first half as he dribbled past two defenders on the edge of the area, only for Rotherham goalkeeper Daniel Iversen to claw away a curled effort that was heading towards the top corner.

That was almost sublime, but come just before the half-hour mark, McGeady was also supplying something rather ridiculous.

Sunderland were awarded a penalty when Clark Robertson scythed through Lynden Gooch in the box, but presented with a golden opportunity to double his side’s lead, McGeady tried to be too clever by half. Having stuttered in his run-up, he aimed a tame side-footed effort much too close to Iversen, who was able to make an unforgivably simple save.

Rotherham’s players thought they should have had a penalty of their own moments earlier, and with the ball appearing to roll down O’Nien’s arm as Sunderland’s repositioned ‘number ten’ controlled a punch from Jon McLaughlin, they might well have had a point.

Ozturk’s clumsy challenge on Carlton Morris shortly before half-time looked a much more hopeful shout, but while Rotherham hardly attacked with the authority of a side that had scored six goals against Bolton Wanderers last weekend, McGeady’s sloppiness from the spot meant Paul Warne’s side were able to construct their moves safe in the knowledge that they were still very much in the game.

They should really have been even in an better position than that by the time the interval arrived, but two glorious opportunities were spurned in the space of three first-half minutes. First, Freddie Ladapo directed a header straight at McLaughlin after Hastie crossed from the left, then Matt Crooks failed to find the target with a header of his own despite being positioned inside the six-yard box as the ball flicked off Dylan McGeouch’s head. On both occasions, Sunderland were fortunate to survive.

Rotherham remained the dominant side for much of the second half, and having been so dominant in the first quarter of the game, it was alarming to see Sunderland lose their grip on the game so markedly.

Perhaps Grant Leadbitter should have been introduced in order to increase the Black Cats’ control of the midfield engine room, but with the skipper still on the bench, the hosts were grateful to Jon McLaughlin as the goalkeeper’s reflexes kept his side ahead shortly after the hour mark.

Ben Wiles’ shot deflected invitingly into the path of Hastie, but while the Rotherham forward drilled a low effort towards goal, McLaughlin left his line to make a fine stop with his legs.

Four minutes later, however, and Hastie was able to celebrate the goal his side’s positive play merited. Having set up Sunderland’s opener, Ozturk was at fault for Rotherham’s equaliser as he hesitated in possession, enabling Ladapo to steal the ball. He found Hastie on the left of the box, and the Millers forward drilled a forceful drive into the roof of the net.

The Black Cats’ best chance of a winner came with 16 minutes left, but substitute Wyke lacked the composure needed to score. McGeady released him into the box, Robertson’s slip afforded him a clear run on goal, but his low shot was directed much too close to Iversen, who saved with his legs.