Whilst a last minute loss is always a cruel blow, today perhaps at least sounded a note of caution that we are still some way from being where we need to be.
There is clearly no need for alarm bells at this stage, but dropped points in games such as this are costly - something that Vincent Kompany warned against ahead of the game - and the display was somewhat of a reminder that we are not as clinical or ruthless as needed to be genuine challengers. By that I don't necessarily mean turning the screw to notch up five or six goal victories, but coming away from places like the Stadium of Light with the three points as opposed to bemoaning being defeated by a late penalty.
Post match, Roberto Mancini lamented the missed opportunities and you have to wonder if with days remaining in the current transfer window whether the trigger may be pulled on a move for a goalscorer, given we have the fewest shots in the Premier League with just seven in the three games so far this season.
Mancini fielded the same side that featured against Liverpool, and with the optimism and momentum that had been garnered from the Timisoara and Liverpool victories victory was expected. The aim was clearly to control the game and dominate the possession.
For the first half, we were the better side and (and Tevez miss apart) should have been ahead, yet failed to capitalise after the break and Sunderland were far more aggressive, allowing us less space and time on the ball. As a result, opportunities were limited and despite the introduction of both David Silva and Emmanuel Adebayor we didn't look like coming away with the points.
Two events dominated the defeat; the Tevez miss and the conceding of the penalty. The miss, as bad as it was, was an aberration and out of character for the Argentinian and he has often saved and won points in the past. The rugby-style tackle from Richards, however, was not. He has talked this season of maturing and heeding Mancini's advice, yet his decision making has been questionable on a number of occasions previously - as it was today. For each steps he appears to take forward, a rash decision or choice soon knocks him back.
I'm not sure whether the forthcoming international break is a good thing for the side. Often, the best way to overcome a frustrating loss is to get back out on the pitch as soon as possible. Maybe though, this gives Mancini and the players time to reflect.
When the players do arrive back though they will be thrown straight into the beginning of a hectic run of games with two Europa League games and a Carling Cup tie sandwiched between the Premier League fixtures before the month is out.