Sunderland 2 Birmingham City 2:Sunderland fans lost count of the number of points frittered away last season courtesy of late capitulations, and another two slipped through the fingers in the final 13 minutes as Birmingham rallied to claim a deserved share of the spoils.
Both captains attempted to outdo each other's ineptitude, the hosts' Lee Cattermole failing to make it to the break after two needless bookings, having already escaped censure for an elbow-first challenge that left Garry O'Connor needing stitches in a head wound.
"O'Connor's burst his eye," Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, revealed. "In this country you don't tend to get punished for challenges like that, but in the Champions' League it can get you sent off. Cattermole's first caution was harsh but then you're on thin ice, and I'd be annoyed if one of my players kicked out when they were on a yellow."
Steve Bruce directed his ire at the referee, Anthony Taylor, or more specifically at the official's lack of top- flight experience. "The referee was out of his depth," the Sunderland manager insisted. "He's been fast-tracked and if they're going to do that they need to be exceptional.
"I don't want to criticise referees but he's only been refereeing for four years and it looked like it. We've got to make sure referees are exceptional. All the big decisions he got wrong. Referees target Lee and he's got to learn quickly."
Cattermole's opposite number, Stephen Carr, had an equally miserable afternoon before he was hauled off shortly after the hour. The hapless Irishman fouled Fraizer Campbell to concede the 24th-minute penalty confidently dispatched by Darren Bent.
Under pressure from the same player as they tussled for a Jordan Henderson cross, he then sent a looping header past Birmingham's new keeper, Ben Foster, to give the hosts a two-goal lead with a little over half an hour remaining. Through bitter and repeated experience, the home supporters knew better than to expect a problem-free stroll to victory.
Things changed with the subsequent introduction of Nikola Zigic, the 6ft 7in striker who signed for £6 million in the summer. His aerial prowess caused panic in a hitherto untroubled Sunderland rearguard which had provided ample protection for the goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet.
Scott Dann halved the deficit on 77 minutes, heading through Mignolet's legs from close range as Seb Larsson worked a neat short-corner routine. The defender should have levelled in near-identical circumstances shortly afterwards but his miss wasn't to prove as costly as it might as Liam Ridgewell inadvertently deflected home the equaliser from close range with two minutes remaining, Larsson's whipped delivery from a free-kick again proving key to sealing the comeback.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the match: Zigic