WELCOME to the Championship. If Sunderland had played as they did in the opening half-hour of yesterday’s game in the majority of their matches in League One last season, they would have blown their opponents away in a flurry of first-half goals.

Life in the second tier is different though, and after Coventry City regrouped in the wake of Jack Clarke’s headed opener, so the Black Cats found themselves clinging on as their opponents displayed the class and composure that has seen them touted as outside candidates for promotion following their mid-table finish last term.

Sunderland dug in, with Anthony Patterson tipping Jonathan Panzo’s strike onto the crossbar, but while the effort and commitment of the home side could not be questioned, they could do nothing about the moment of magic from Viktor Gyokeres that earned Coventry a point with six minutes remaining.

Picking up the ball with two defenders around him, Gyokeres dipped his shoulder this way and that, drifted into a pocket of space 20 yards out, and drilled an unstoppable finish into the bottom right-hand corner.

Gyokeres, who scored 17 Championship goals last season, is a £10m-rated Sweden international, who could yet end up playing in the Premier League before the transfer window swings shut. Suffice to say, you don’t come up against too many players like that in League One. So, while there was understandable disappointment at conceding in the closing stages, Sunderland could still take plenty of positives from their return to the second tier after a four-year absence.

The opening 20 minutes contained some especially positive signs, with the Black Cats taking the game to their opponents and claiming a deserved lead as Clarke nodded home Lynden Gooch’s cross at the back post.

Clarke, who was a threat all afternoon, was a flurry of activity playing down the left-hand side, with Gooch complementing his relentless running on the opposite flank. Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton, who got the nod to start ahead of Patrick Roberts, did not look out of place at Championship level, passing and probing from the heart of midfield, Alex Pritchard was his usual inventive self in the number ten role, and Ross Stewart showed more than enough creativity and cunning to suggest he is capable of scoring goals at this level.

Stewart, who came close to scoring in the second half with a goal-bound effort that Simon Moore tipped over the crossbar, pulled the Coventry defence here, there and everywhere all afternoon, earning praise from visiting manager Mark Robins and underlining why it is absolutely imperative Sunderland keep hold of him this month.

With Embleton also curling a decent effort just over the crossbar at the start of the second half, Sunderland asked questions of the Coventry defence for the majority of the game, but their dominance had disappeared by the midpoint of the opening period, and they spent almost all of the second half on the back foot.

They would have been pegged back before the break had it not been for a piece of goalkeeping brilliance from Patterson, with the Black Cats shot-stopper getting his fingertips to a long-range strike from Panzo to divert the ball onto the crossbar.

It was a sensational save, more than justifying the faith that Alex Neil continues to display in the youngster, but it was the signal for a gradual building of pressure that eventually told.

In fairness to Sunderland, it was not as though Coventry created a host of chances after the break, but with Robins turning to his bench as he brought on four fresh pairs of legs, the Black Cats increasingly found themselves pinned in their own half.

There was a let-off when Neil was robbed of possession on the edge of his own 18-yard box, only for Matt Godden to sweep a shot wide of the target when he should really have scored, and while Gyokeres’ equaliser might have come courtesy of a stunning individual strike, it was not as though it was undeserved.

The Swede dispatched his 20-yard finish with a clinical accuracy that highlighted why he is in such high demand, with Fulham and Middlesbrough leading a batch of clubs battling for his services, and while Sunderland’s defenders should probably not have stood off him as he wriggled into space, there was precious little the home side could have done to keep the ball out.

So, what has the opening weekend taught us about the Black Cats’ prospects of flourishing in the second tier? In truth, probably not a lot we did not already know.

Sunderland have some talented players, with the capability of improving as they come to terms with the demands of life in the Championship. But whereas they were big fish in a small pond last season, having won promotion, the opposite is now the case.

They remain a big club with a huge fanbase – yesterday’s attendance of more than 40,000 was more than 13,000 bigger than any other crowd on the opening weekend of the Championship season – but four years away from the second tier has dented their financial muscle as well as weakening their squad.

Coventry finished in mid-table last season, and can therefore claim to be an established Championship club. Their squad is deeper than Sunderland’s, hence Robins’ ability to make game-changing alterations in the second half, and in Gyokeres, they boast a seasoned international who would not look out of place in the top-flight. At this stage of their development, the Black Cats do not have anyone of comparable quality.

That is not to say that Sunderland cannot compete with such sides, but it underlines the scale of the task that faces them over the course of the next nine months. Getting out of League One took four seasons – but the hard work has only just begun.