Simon Grayson might have been billed as the headline act on his return to Deepdale but a crazy six-minute spell early in the second half meant he was almost an after-thought once the dust had settled.
Goals, a shot against the woodwork and Aiden McGeady on the wind-up were to become the talking points instead.
Warm applause from the Preston fans for the former boss before kick-off and at the final whistle, book-ended an eventful clash which was hard to take your eyes off.
Much of the critical action came between the 55th and 61st minute as the game was flipped on its head and then back over – a bumper crowd kept well entertained.
In equal measure to that entertainment, the North End faithful were annoyed by the antics of McGeady.
Now sporting the colours of Sunderland, last season’s Lilywhites player of the year chose a celebration which went down like a lead balloon in the three home stands after netting the visitors’ equaliser.
Scoring at the Bill Shankly Kop end, his celebration took him downfield towards the Alan Kelly Town End.
It was in a similar vein to Emmanuel Adebayor when he scored for Manchester City against Arsenal.
McGeady did not get quite as far as Adebayor did, in that there was no knee-slide and no photographer’s stool went flying through the air.
However, it was all rather unnecessary and left a bit of a bad taste from a game which had otherwise been played in the right spirit – competitive and full-blooded.
PNE trailed at half-time to a George Honeyman goal, the first-half display along the lines of that at Birmingham a couple of weeks earlier.
They hit back very much how they had done in that one, Josh Harrop and Jordan Hugill netting within two minutes of each another.
Hugill’s goal was a sight to behold, lashing home a volley with his ‘weaker’ left foot.
But the lead given to them by Hugill was to last only two minutes before McGeady drew the Black Cats level.
No sooner had he done his pantomime villain piece, then North End were inches away from going in front again.
This time a shot from Alan Browne came back off the post.
Either side of that action-packed few minutes, there was plenty more to-ing and fro-ing as the play moved from one end of the pitch to the other.
Grayson’s outfit were the better team in the first half before PNE got the measure of them with the help of some half-time pointers from Alex Neil.
I thought Neil’s men shaded the second half in general, that said the one clear-cut chance after the goal-spree came the way of Sunderland.
It needed a fine piece of defending from Ben Davies to stop Duncan Watmore’s pull-back finding Lee Cattermole.
The general consensus was that the draw was a fair result.
Neil and Grayson shared that view, no doubt reflecting that their respective sides had been behind at one stage.
You sensed that had North End held their lead a little longer, they would have gone on to win it.
But letting Sunderland straight back in for the equaliser dispersed the head of steam which they had been building up.
What they lacked to help them see the job through was a midfielder enforcer.
Both John Welsh and Ben Pearson were sat in the stand because of injury, a third game in a week a step too far for Welsh, who was nursing a calf niggle.
Bear in mind it was only this month that he came back from 11 months out with such an injury, Neil did not want to take the risk with him.
The absence of Pearson meant he missed all of September’s games, the focus now being on whether he will be back for the trip to Fulham a week on Saturday.
It had been three months since Grayson left Preston to take the Sunderland job and it has not been plain sailing for him on Wearside. His walk from the tunnel to the technical area was one made to warm applause, he was also clapped off later in the afternoon.
Two other ex-North End players, Billy Jones and Tyias Browning, joined McGeady in the visitors’ side.
McGeady was booed from the start, an interview he had done in the build-up where he said he, ‘Would take our team above theirs’ riling some of the Preston faithful.
It jumped out as a touch disrespectful, bearing in mind most of the PNE squad were his team-mates last season.
McGeady and Co drew first blood in the game, taking the lead in the 28th minute.
Browning’s free-kick into the box was won in the air by James Vaughan who headed it down to Lynden Gooch.
Gooch turned and laid the ball into HONEYMAN’S path and he finished well with a low shot from 12 yards.
Neil responded to his side’s slightly laboured first-half show by moving Sean Maguire into the centre-forward’s role and pulling Hugill out to the left-hand side of the attack.
Hugill won the free-kick just outside the corner of the box which led to North End equalising in the 55th minute and sparking that mad spell.
HARROP took it, whipping the free-kick across the box with his right foot and in at the far post. Vaughan got a touch with his head as he tried to clear and while not changing the flight of the ball, might have put keeper Jason Steele off.
PNE pushed for a second goal and got what they went for almost immediately.
Davies and Josh Earl worked the ball to Harrop, who slid a pass to Browne on the edge of the box.
Browning nicked the ball off Browne but it looped up and fell to HUGILL who lashed a first-time volley into the roof of the net from 17 yards.
Alas, the lead lasted only a couple of minutes, Didier Ndong getting the better of Harrop in a midfield duel and playing the ball up to the edge of the box.
McGEADY rode a sliding tackle from Davies and curled a low left-foot shot into the far corner past Chris Maxwell.
At the other end, Browne hit the post from the edge of the box before a modicum of calm fell on the proceedings.