If you're going to keep putting Richardson in advanced positions, sooner or later he'll come up with something (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
As the season draws closer, Martin O'Neill said he expected his side to take things up a notch against Derby and Leicester City - the latter they face on Saturday.
Truth be told the effort levels increased, which saw Sunderland huff and puff for the majority of the first half without reward. Lining up in a system closer to the one deployed last season than the three-pronged attack we have seen during this pre-season, the absence of Stephane Sessegnon saw O'Neill's side lack the quality to take advantage of the extra man in midfield until Kieran Richardson's introduction smoothed the supply line.
The quandry of just what to do with Richardson - especially when he contributes in an advanced role - has been a consistent throughout his career, but he may have just given O'Neill something to mull over ahead of the weekend's trip to the King Power Stadium. But before that, let's look back at last night's action...
In what was pretty much a tit-for-tat first half, Sunderland had the better chances; striking the post twice through James McClean and Carlos Cuellar. Having set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Sunderland was able to provide Craig Gardner with space that the midfielder didn't quite make full use of. Despite testing Frankie Fielding from range, Gardner was largely unable to supply lone frontman Fraizer Campbell.
David Meyler drove into space and his shot forced Fielding into a parried save, before collecting at the second attempt. That sparked a flurry of half-chances as a Jamie Ward foray lead to the hosts hitting the post, and then a Sunderland counter-attack lead to McClean forcing Fielding to push his shot onto the upright.
Ward again forced a save from Mignolet moments later, as a flurried opening quarter hour produced plenty of effort but precious little quality. The Belgian keeper was involved again as he raced out to smother the ball at Theo Robinson's feet, before Fielding's latest audition in the goalkeeper-off denied Gardner after he linked up with McClean.
From the resulting corner, Cuellar hit the post and a few minutes later Gardner's lashed shot wide encapsulated frustration at not being able to capitalise on such opportunities. The Rams, in turn, probed for a breakthrough but found a composed figure in Blair Adams at left-back. On the opposite flank, Ahmed Elmohamady made a couple of timely clearances and made himself available in attack.
As half-time approached, a misplaced Jake Buxton pass was seized upon by McClean - but the winger's drive was held by Fielding. Despite McClean's involvement, there were instances - particularly when Sunderland looked to move the ball from right to left - where the winger found himself ‘doubled up' by right-sided pair Paul Coutts and John Brayford.
A reshuffle took place during the interval, which saw Meyler revert to right-back and Colback filling in at left-back. Elmohamady advanced to the right-hand side of midfield, whilst Lee Cattermole replaced Blair Adams and slotted into midfield alongside Sebastian Larsson. Richardson replaced Gardner in the advanced midfield role.
Derby teenager Will Hughes had the first chance of the second half - firing wide before John O'Shea cleared a ball intended for Robinson. Having made changes, it looked as if Sunderland's ability to create may have improved. Richardson threaded a ball through to Campbell, but the striker was dispossessed by Richard Keogh. The defender was straight back into the thick of things, denying Campbell once more after a fine pass from Cattermole.
Then, finally, McClean got Sunderland's first goal in three pre-season outings as Cattermole broke up the play and fed Richardson, who in turn picked out the left winger to fire home. With the proverbial tails up, Sunderland again looked threatening but Elmohamady's cross fizzed away from Campbell and danger from a Derby perspective.
Youngsters Ryan Noble, Billy Knott and John Egan were all given run-outs in the second half. Derby too made customary changes as the game looked like drifting away, but substitute Michael Hoganson's cross found Nathan Tyson unmarked who levelled just a minute from time.
Team (Ratings In Brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (6); Elmohamady (7), Cuellar (6), O'Shea (6), Adams (6); Larsson (6), Meyler (5), Colback (6), McClean (7); Gardner (5); Campbell (5)
Subs Used: Cattermole (6) , Richardson (7), Egan (5), Knott (5), Noble (5)
Man Of The Match: James McClean - Despite an impressive cameo from Richardson, McClean started brightly and grew into the game - to the extent that he was our greatest goal threat in the first half. The introduction of Richardson saw that threat materialise into something more tangible, as the two combined to give Sunderland the lead. With the season just over a week away now, seeing McClean get into his stride is more important than last night's result.