Peter Reid has spent the summer buying experience in Stefan Schwarz, Steve Bould and Thomas Helmer, but the unexpected departures of Lee Clark and Michael Bridges coupled with the contract disaffection of Allan Johnston, have left Reid short in attacking options and midfield creation.
So Eric Roy's surprisingly successful run-out in the second half of this niggardly testimonial for loyal club captain Kevin Ball was a major talking point among the Wearside faithful - 36,000 season tickets sold - who are apprehensive about their Premiership prospects despite last season's romp in the First Division.
"We've had a lot of problems with the lads that have gone and we can't hide that," said Reid. "I've watched Roy four times and he has impressed me. He's an English-type player. He's strong and he holds the ball well."
Although Roy looked neat and confident in midfield, Sunderland were stretched by a Sampdoria side whose relegation to Serie B has relieved them of stars like pounds 20m Vincenzo Montella and pounds 12 Ariel Ortega. With 10 on the bench - double the number of their travelling support who were policed by four British bobbies throughout - the Italians seemed just to be making up the numbers. "Theatrical wasn't the word for it", said Ball, who missed the first sudden- death penalty in the shoot-out that produced the winner from the stalemate. "Scottish Opera played before the game and they wanted to live up to it."
So little can be learnt about the 70-year-old defensive pairing of Bould and Helmer, a veteran of the last two World Cups, who arrived on a free from Bayern Munich. But with England newcomer Michael Gray on the left and the dependable Chris Makin on the right, Sunderland have a back line that should at least provide protection for their promising Danish keeper, Thomas Sorensen.
"We kept going for 90 minutes and fitness is the main point of these games", said Reid. "I thought we looked solid all the way through and created a few chances". Disappointingly, the prolific Kevin Phillips missed both good chances - a first-half header and a second-half gift from 10 yards. With only the injured Danny Dichio as a recognised reserve striker, Phillip's partnership with the willing Niall Quinn has to provide enough goals to defeat the bookmaker's suggestion that Sunderland will be scrapping over the third relegation spot with Southampton.
"We've looked strong and sharp and I'm pleased with that", said Reid. "Now we are looking forward to the real test next week at Chelsea."
But he added: "I've got another couple of players in mind to bring in."
Goal: Flachi (penalty 90).
Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler (Helmer, 45), Gray; Summerbee, Ball (Roy, 45), Rae (Ball, 82), Lumsdon (Fredgaard,60); Phillips, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Holloway, Williams, Marriott, Craddock, Wainwright
Sampdoria (3-5-2): Sereni (Ambrosio, 69); Stendardo, Tosto (Pesaresi, 45), Vieira; Gaetano (Kate, 60), Doriva (Flachi 45), Casale (Vergassola, 45), Ficini, Nenad; Palmieri, Esposito (Sjro, 45). Substitutes not used: Sinagna, Iacopino, Zivkovie, Matzuzzi.
Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn).
Man of the match: Summerbee.
Attendance: 27,506.Reuse content