LET’S start with some reflections from the Sunderland boss after a 1-1 home draw in the opening game of the season.

“Results wise, we can’t be satisfied with drawing at home because we saw the consequences of doing that too often last season. It highlights the importance of not conceding soft goals in the early part of the game because it gives teams something to protect and hang on to here, and it means we then have to push really hard and put a lot into the game, which we did. We spent an awful lot of time in their final third, but we need to provide more quality and be more ruthless at both ends of the pitch.”

A fair assessment from Phil Parkinson after Sunderland stuttered to a point against Bristol Rovers? Not quite. Those were the words of former Black Cats boss Jack Ross reflecting on his side’s 1-1 draw at home to Oxford United on the opening weekend of the 2019-20 season last August.

These are unprecedented times in which so much of the footballing world has changed out of all recognition. At the Stadium of Light, however, some things remain defiantly unaltered. Concession of a cheap early goal? Check. Opposition time wasting from that point onwards in an attempt to cling on to their one-goal lead? Check. Sunderland doing a lot of huffing and puffing without ever really getting on top? Check. A succession of chances being spurned before one is eventually converted to result in the game finishing 1-1? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Here is Parkinson’s assessment of Saturday’s opening performance. Stick three or four of the key phrases into an internet search engine along with the team name “Sunderland”, and you won’t be short of League One match reports to trawl through.

“We couldn’t have started any worse, against a team that just came to time waste,” said Parkinson, in an almost word-for-word recital of Ross’ comments from 13 months earlier. “The start was terrible and we became a bit frantic after that, but once we got into our rhythm and started playing, we got better as the game wore on.

“I don’t think we could have done much more in the second half in terms of the way we played. Obviously, the final moment of quality needs to be better because with the amount of dominance we had, we should really have been out of sight. The main thing was not being clinical enough with that final pass, the quality of the cross or the finish.” To coin a well-worn phrase, it’s like déjà vu all over again.

Saturday’s starting line-up contained five players that also started the draw with Oxford that kicked off last season – a sixth, Lynden Gooch, came on as a substitute in the second half – and while Parkinson has made some fairly significant alterations over the summer, it is tempting to conclude that some of the key deficiencies that were apparent a year or so ago still remain.

Admittedly, these are early days and Parkinson might well make more wholesale alterations once his summer additions bed in, but the sight of Sunderland conceding a sloppy early goal, with goalkeeper Lee Burge failing to hold on to a header from Luke Leahy before compounding his error by bundling over Jayden Mitchell-Lawson as he attempted to atone for his mistake, was still both alarming and depressingly predictable.

The same could be said of the failings that hampered the home side’s attempts to get back on level terms, most notably the lack of pace that prevented anyone in red-and-white from getting behind the Bristol Rovers defence, and the absence of attacking-midfield creativity that meant Sunderland’s moves in the final third quickly became predictable and easy to counteract.

Aiden O’Brien looks a decent addition following his release from Millwall, but in many respects, he is a similar type of player to Chris Maguire and even Gooch. Max Power, playing ten or 15 yards further up the field this season, should weigh in with his fair share of goals, but Sunderland still need a playmaker, someone capable of putting their foot on the ball and threading a pass through a packed opposition defence happy to set up camp on the edge of their 18-yard box. Admittedly, those type of players are difficult to find at League One level, but for all they might have scored eight goals against Aston Villa Under-21s on Tuesday night, Sunderland do not look a side bursting with attacking athleticism, pace or creative vision.

That said, they should probably still have won at the weekend on the balance of the chances they created. Rovers keeper Anssi Jaakkola made an excellent point-blank save as he kept out George Dobson’s header midway through the second half, and produced an even better stop late on as he acrobatically tipped Power’s long-range drive onto the crossbar.

The visitors blocked two goal-bound efforts from just in front of the goalline, so on another day, Sunderland could easily have added to Maguire’s 82nd-minute equaliser, which came courtesy of a fine finish as he slammed home a loose ball from the edge of the penalty area.

“The performance against Hull (in the Carabao Cup) was really good,” said Power. “We created enough chances to have won that game, and Tuesday night (against Aston Villa Under-21s in the EFL Trophy) was goals galore.

“Today, I just think it’s a really sloppy start and that first 90 seconds has probably cost us winning the game. But I’m positive. I’ve seen enough today. It would be a worry if we weren’t creating chances, but I don’t want to be sitting here a month down the line and we’re still saying we played well but we’ve not quite done enough.”

Sunderland have to become more effective in front of goal in their league games, so when it comes to Parkinson’s decision to select Will Grigg ahead of Charlie Wyke and Danny Graham, the jury remains out. Grigg could not be accused of spurning chances at the weekend, but the fact he was not really getting into a position where an opportunity could be fashioned for him was nevertheless worrying. Both Wyke and Graham offer more of a physical presence in attack, something that might be required until things fully bed down.

Sunderland’s collective frustration at the final whistle was obvious, and was enhanced by Bristol Rovers’ timewasting efforts, which were both predictable and largely unpunished. It took until the 98th minute before Jaakkola was booked for his blatant attempts to run down the clock, although the flip side of the coin is that the visitors would not have been able to adopt spoiling tactics had they not been presented with such a soft early lead.

For the sake of balance, it is also worth pointing out that while Sunderland rightly finished with ten men after Dobson was dismissed for an over-the-top challenge on Mitchell-Lawson in stoppage time, they could easily have ended up with nine had referee Anthony Backhouse not shied away from brandishing a red card to Bailey Wright midway through the second half.

Wright had already been booked when he hauled down Brandon Hanlan, but while Backhouse appeared to reach for what would have been a second yellow card, he changed his mind once he realised what the consequence of his actions would have been.

“That was the turning point,” said Bristol Rovers boss Ben Garner. “Bailey Wright brought down Hanlan when he was already on a yellow. The referee had a card in his hand, but for whatever reason, he puts it back away without showing it.”

While Parkinson felt Dobson’s dismissal was harsh, even he was forced to concede that Wright had got away lightly. “George won the ball,” said Parkinson, who does not expect to appeal against the dismissal. “I thought at the time it was going to be a yellow, but the kind of manner of the challenge, sometimes they get interpreted as a red. It’s frustrating, but it will give someone else an opportunity.

“With Bailey, I think normally in those situations, refs will give someone who is on a yellow card an opportunity because it was an innocuous type of challenge. But on another day, he could have got a red.”

A frustratingly familiar was to start then, but perhaps, on reflection, it could have been worse.