FOR the first time in what seems like a very long time – Saturday was a good day at the office for Steve Bruce.
There was the excellent 4-0 victory over Stoke in mid-September admittedly, but that has been the only real highlight of a season now stretching into its 10th week.
And in a results-driven business, that has simply been nowhere near good enough for a team, and supporters, with top 10 aspirations.
Saturday’s 2-0 success at Bolton – Sunderland’s first away win of the season – offered a bit more balance to a previously lop-sided campaign for the Black Cats.
And if Darren Bent’s Aston Villa can be beaten this weekend, to give Sunderland 12 points from 10 games, it will, bizarrely, represent a pretty much respectable first quarter of the campaign for the Wearsiders.
If that proves to be the case, Sunderland will look back on the Bolton game as an important turning point – a game in which the result was always far more important than the display.
Two twitchy teams provided little entertainment in the first half, but it was a different story in the second as Sunderland played some fine football to gain a win they deserved.
“The first half was riveting stuff!” said Bruce, his tone reflecting exactly the opposite. “To be honest, I couldn’t wait until half-time to get them in so we could have a good talk to them and try to take the shackles off a bit.
“Both sides were nervy and edgy and at the break we just wanted them to relax, I told them: ‘You just play your football, let me do the worrying’.”
The manager fully understood the tension.
“There were three points separating nine teams in the Premier League at the start of the day and I think that explains why teams are being so nervy,” he said.
“Thankfully, we managed to put that out of our minds and play really well second-half. I was pleased with that.
“I can’t remember a game where we’ve played so well away from home for a long time.
“We had 10 or 11 corners, 22 shots on goal, so it was pleasing that at least one eventually went in.”
Bruce was pleased with the full debut of Connor Wickham, satisfied with another good play-making game from David Vaughan and thrilled with the performance of his own man-of-the-match Jack Colback.
There were also honourable mentions too for goalscorers Stephane Sessegnon and Nicklas Bendtner as the manager mused there were signs that this squad is coming together. “I can’t stress enough the huge changes we’ve had at the club,” he said.
“It’s been hard to get them to settle and to give everyone a chance, but we’re starting to get there, I hope, because I know I’ve got some really good players at the club and we saw that in the second half at Bolton.
“We’re a newly assembled squad and we just need a bit of time to settle together and we’ll be all right.”