Sunderland were honest workmen while Coventry's wealth of talent laboured to create chances. Gary McAllister was not just policed but arrested by Kevin Ball, while Noel Whelan and John Salako were out-competed by Sunderland's no-nonsense defence.
Tony Coton spent the first half fielding back-passes while at the other end Steve Ogrizovic was leaping to clutch or punch Sunderland's long-balls lofted towards Niall Quinn's head.
Stalemate set in and Roker Park became restless. The game changed in the 40th minute when Quinn hobbled off and on came Craig Russell, Sunderland's leading scorer last season. Paul Stewart took over as target man and the pacy Russell tore into the space.
Less than 10 minutes after half-time Ball put Russell clear down the left. His deep cross found Steve Agnew on the edge of the area, who fired beautifully past Ogrizovic.
It was Sunderland's first goal in five games from open play. With Stewart and Russell on form they might have had more. In response Ron Atkinson switched to three at the back, throwing the extra man into attack. In a frantic finale - extended by five minutes by the referee - Whelan had a goal disallowed for offside and Coton made two fine saves.
In a curious climax, Ogrizovic came up for a 94th minute corner. Russell won the ball, raced the length of the field but ran out of puff inside the six yard box, allowing David Burrows to clear his tame shot from the line.
Atkinson commented: "For an hour we didn't play. We didn't drive the game hard enough, we didn't pass the ball well enough and we looked as if we'd settled for a goalless draw."
Now the most pressing question of survival is not that of the newcomers Sunderland, but Big Ron at Highfield Road.Reuse content