Hope springs eternal at Liverpool, but so do performances and results like this. Nowhere was anticipation and optimism more in evidence as the new season got under way, but deja vu was the feeling as the old stadium emptied.

Liverpool's stoical supporters confidently expect the revival sparked by Kenny Dalglish in 2011 to continue apace, but it was clear here that the assimilation of the new signings will take time and that it is unrealistic to expect the reinforced team to gel immediately.

Dalglish, who was without Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson because of injuries, gave debuts to José Enrique, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, and will have been encouraged by a first half in which Liverpool were dominant. Unfortunately, an old failing reared its ugly head and the lion's share of possession failed to produce the goals it warranted. The one they fashioned before the interval was not enough to withstand Sunderland's improvement, which resulted in Sweden's Sebastian Larsson celebrating his debut with a volleyed equaliser.

When the force was with them, Liverpool looked good. The fact they have never won the Premier League is not so much a statistic as a cliche these days, and only those who view such things through red-tinted spectacles believe that barren run is about to end. Nevertheless, the team that finished sixth last season is stronger for the summer recruitment drive, and a top-four finish is a plausible target.

They could have been ahead here after five minutes, when Kieran Richardson tripped Luis Suárez in front of goal, but the Uruguayan blasted the consequent penalty over the bar. Richardson was fortunate to get away with a yellow card, when red was the more appropriate option. As Dalglish put it: "I suppose nine-and-a-half referees out of 10 would have given Kieran the red card." Steve Bruce admitted: "On another day it could have been a red card."

The first goal was not delayed long. In the 12th minute, Adam took a free-kick on the right with his left foot and Suárez scored with a stooping header at the near post.

Until half-time, with Adam pulling the strings, there was only one team in it: Downing shivered the crossbar from 25 yards out, Carroll thumped the ball home, only to be penalised for pushing, and Adam demanded a smart overhead save from Belgium's Simon Mignolet. Sunderland had spent most of the first half carelessly conceding possession, with Richardson horribly vulnerable at left-back and Jack Colback out of his depth in midfield. Bruce's decision to prefer the inexperienced Colback to David Vaughan, who was Blackpool's player of the year last season, was a puzzling one. Craig Gardner, too, had a right to feel disappointed.

In the second half, Sunderland were more economical and, therefore, a threat at last. Liverpool, in general, and Adam, in particular, tired when they had to chase for the ball and it became more of a contest. A mistake by young John Flanagan, deputising for the injured Johnson at right-back, allowed Larsson to put over a cross that merited a better finish than Asamoah Gyan's poor header. Flanagan's confidence waned thereafter and he was little more than a liability by the end.

The equaliser came when Egypt's Ahmed Elmohamady crossed from the right and Larsson, beyond the far post, lashed the ball back whence it came, inside José Reina's left upright.

Dalglish sent on Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles in search of the winner but it never looked like coming, leaving Bruce much the happier manager. Larsson and Wes Brown had delighted him with assured first performances. But why had he given starts to only two of his summer signings, omitting Gardner, Vaughan and Connor Wickham? "I needed to stay loyal to the lads who did so well last season," the Sunderland manager said. "The new ones will get their chances. The two new ones had marvellous debuts, so I hope the others are as good."

Liverpool will need to keep their game together for the full 90 minutes on Saturday, when a trip to Arsenal will prove a sterner test of their potential. Sunderland, meanwhile, are at home to Newcastle and will be looking for more penetration than Gyan and Stéphane Sessègnon offered here.