Sunderland hit the ground running. And running. And running. And eventually they ran the points out of reach of an Ipswich side never allowed to get into their usual free-flowing stride.
Gavin McCann and Stefan Schwarz ran the midfield; Julio Arca scampered all over the place. But none ran more than Kevin Phillips, selfless almost to the point of self-sacrifice. Phillips was rewarded, scoring a decisive first-half penalty. "It was a hard-fought victory which we just about shaded, although Ipswich showed why they had such a great season last year,'' said Sunderland's manager, Peter Reid.
"Phillips was absolutely magnificent. The only way I can describe him is on fire. And that tackle near the end showed his determination.''
His opposite number, George Burley, admitted: "I was disappointed with the first 45 minutes. We never really got going at all, but in the second half we showed we were on the right lines.''
Such are Sunderland's expectations this season that liberal use of the E-word Europe has been heard in the dressing room. Having finished seventh for the second successive season, they won't be involved this year. But Reid has bought in European experience through Bernt Haas (two seasons in the Champions' League with Grasshopper Zurich) and Lilian Laslandes (nine consecutive European campaigns before this season).
Haas, at right-back, looked inventive and in possession of explosive pace. Laslandes, a £3.6m signing from Bordeaux, started in place of Niall Quinn and did enough to win a warm reception when substituted in the 71st minute, although the old warhorse's introduction was greeted rapturously by the fans, as was his 88th-minute header which just shaved the post.
Ipswich, who are in the Uefa Cup this season, also fielded their two big summer signings: £4.5m keeper Matteo Sereni, who denied Phillips superbly in the 63rd minute, and the £3.1m Finidi George. The Nigerian looked uncomfortable starting up front, but prospered when moved to his habitual right wing. This allowed Pablo Couñago to partner Marcus Stewart. Signed on a free in May from Celta Viga, the 22-year-old Spaniard looked neat and nippy, with one stooping header needing a stylish save from Thomas Sorensen.
It was an entertaining to-and-fro game which revolved round the 37th-minute penalty. Ipswich started the brighter, Matt Holland screwing horribly wide when Martijn Reuser's free-kick rebounded to him and then, after a delightful swivel of the hips by the Dutchman sold both Haas and Arca, Reuser too dragged his shot wide.
On 20 minutes Sunderland suddenly stepped up a gear. Laslandes' slick header left Sereni stranded as it nipped wide of the post. Then the Italian from Sampdoria was caught piggy-in-the-middle as Haas crossed deep, Phillips headed back and Laslandes just failed to get a touch.
But then Titus Bramble, whose nonchalance regularly got him into dangerous scrapes, bumbled over a bouncing ball and brought down Kevin Kilbane. Burley saw it as "soft", but Phillips showed no mercy, sending Sereni flying the wrong way.
Phillips was now alight. Straight after the break he raced on to Haas's shrewd through-ball, but John McGreal smothered his shot. Minutes later Arca played Phillips in, his fierce shot tipped away for the game's first corner. Just after the hour, Phillips played a perfectly weighted pass between Ipswich's two retreating central defenders into the path of Laslandes, but the Frenchman failed even to get a touch.
Yet Ipswich too had their chances. Couñago drew a save from Sorensen and two minutes later easily turned the powerful Emerson Thome. His shot beat the Danish keeper, but sadly also the post. This was Phillips' day.
Sunderland 1 Ipswich Town 0
Phillips pen 38
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 47,370Reuse content