Sunderland open account in style
Sunderland 4 Stoke City 0: With the world's largest half-marathon finishing just up the coast earlier in the day, running analogies were inevitable.
A beleaguered Steve Bruce had been set up to hit the wall, but cruised in. The Sunderland manager looks to be in it for the long run.
As thousands of exhausted competitors poured over the finishing line of the Great North Run at nearby South Shields, his team provided a much-needed reminder as to their powers of endurance over the marathon that is the Premier League campaign. A first victory of the season at the sixth attempt was never in doubt after two early goals saw Stoke fail to take advantage of the hosts' previously brittle confidence.
"Given the circumstances, that win was particularly sweet," insisted Eric Black, the No 2 to Bruce, who was fully vindicated in his decision to drop his captain, Lee Cattermole. On his first league start for the club, David Vaughan exerted a growing influence on midfield.
Black, sent up by Bruce to discuss the win, added: "The manager will always be a winner and like the rest of us it hurts him when we don't win. There's been a lot said and written, but we've stayed focused and left all the external stuff to everyone else. The attitude of the players has never been in doubt."
Tired they may have been, but that was not a sufficient reason for the way Stoke, who made eight changes from the side that earned a point in Kiev three days earlier, surrendered before the interval, shipping three goals in the first 28 minutes.
The visitors were two down inside 11 minutes, courtesy of the stuff of nightmares from goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who allowed a close-range shot from Titus Bramble to squirm beneath his grasp at an early corner from Seb Larsson. The Swede set up the second, with Begovic caught out of position as Jonathan Woodgate, under pressure from Nicklas Bendtner, sent a looping header over the stranded Bosnian from Larsson's ball into the box.
Simon Mignolet did his bit by helping to repel the predictable Stoke threat posed by the long throws of Rory Delap. From one of these, the Belgium goalkeeper blocked a Robert Huth effort, before an acrobatic save halted a Marc Wilson free-kick destined for the top corner.
Normal service was soon resumed, and Larsson and Bendtner combined to feed Craig Gardner on the edge of the area, the midfielder's deflected shot finding the top corner. Larsson claimed the fourth for himself 13 minutes into the second half, curling a 20-yard free-kick into the bottom corner to seal a first defeat in 10 games for the off-key visitors this season.
City's manager Tony Pulis was, as ever, realistic: "Some people earn in a year what some of my players earn in a week, so there's no way we'd make an excuse about the travelling."
Substitutes: Sunderland Colback 6 (Larsson, 62), Ji Dong-won 6 (Sessegnon, 81), Wickham 6 (Bendtner, 85). Stoke Jones 5 (Jerome, 62), Pennant 5 (Etherington, 65), Palacios 5 (Delap, 72).
Booked: Sunderland Larsson. Stoke Huth, Crouch. Man of the match Larsson. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Sunderland 65% Stoke 35%. Attempts on target: Sunderland 7 Stoke 5. Referee K Friend (Leicestershire). Attendance 32,296.