FROM within 99 minutes of laborious football came a moment of genuine brilliance and skill that must have given Sunderland supporters some much-needed hope.
It came just after the hour mark when one of their own showed a touch so deft you could have put a Barcelona top on it.
A shoulder was dipped, the ball controlled with the back of a heel and, with three Stoke players watching on helplessly, a pass was played out of a dangerous position.
The fact this piece of skill was conjured up by Simon Mignolet, the goalkeeper, at the edge of his own six-yard box tells everything you need to know about this current Sunderland team.
That was about it, in terms of entertaining football from Martin O’Neill’s men.
And, let’s be honest, it has been like that since Everton won at the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup quarter-final back in March. Tomorrow night’s Capital One Cup tie with Middlesbrough now becomes the most important match of the season for O’Neill and Sunderland.
If they can get past their neighbours – which is far from a done deal – then Sunderland face another quarter-final.
O’Neill will hope this time the result goes his way and, instead a of quarter-final killing a season, it would bring this one to life.
Judging Sunderland over the last few weeks has been a tricky business.
It’s not that Sunderland are a bad team, although one win in their last 16 league games might suggest otherwise. It’s just they are not a great one and they are certainly not good to watch.
Only Arsenal have conceded fewer goals in the Premier League than Sunderland this season. Nobody has scored less than their tally of six from eight games.
Mignolet is a class goalkeeper and the back four are solid enough. Danny Rose was again outstanding, while Phil Bardsley made his first appearance of the season, as a late substitute, which means Craig Gardner can be pushed into midfield.
Lee Cattermole returned and broke up play well, while Jack Colback gave his usual steady performance.
But where is the flair, invention, or imagination?