TITUS Bramble returned to action as Sunderland Reserves enjoyed a romp.
The Black Cats’ second string struck seven against Scunthorpe’s reserves - James McClean netting twice in this Central League Cup romp, as did Ji Dong-won.
Ryan Noble came off the bench to notch a four-minute hat-trick, making light of the tag that Sunderland have a goal-shy squad.
Scunthorpe present far less formidable opposition of course than Premier League opponents and substitute Noble’s job was made simple by the quality of the defence-splitting balls which left him in clear on goal behind weary-legged defenders at the death.
But this was still an admirable display nonetheless, especially given the unpredictable path of the ball in dreadful conditions.
There was little sign of the thumping scoreline to come as both sides struggled to master the weather.
Striker Jordan Cook hooked an opportunist effort over on the quarter-hour and David Vaughan saw a curling left-foot shot palmed away by Irons keeper Jake Turner three minutes later.
Sunderland took the lead 60 seconds later through left-winger James McClean – excellent throughout – who nodded home Craig Gardner’s cross from the right with a firm header at the far post, six yards out.
Ji might have doubled the lead when he was played in on goal by McClean but curled his shot wide of the far post in a one-on-one with the keeper.
Ten minutes before the break, McClean grabbed Sunderland’s second when a David Meyler cross from the right was miscontrolled by Ji and ran on to McClean, who took time to control, look up and drive just inside the far post, low, from tight angle.
Two goals to the good at half-time and it was already looking like game over with Sunderland having too much strength in defence and midfield, where the quartet of Meyler, Vaughan, Gardner and McClean pulled the strings.
But Sunderland took things to a different level in the second half, carving out chances almost at will.
Ji extended the lead in the 50th minute when a Gardner ball across the face of goal from the left found him unmarked and he slotted past the woefully exposed Turner.
Ten minutes later, the same combination undid Scunthorpe again with a Gardner pass finding the visiting defence completely flat-footed and Ji raced ahead to deepen Turner’s misery.
Seconds before that fourth goal, Noble had replaced the hard-working Cook and he was to go on to miss a couple of chances he would have been disappointed not to bury.
It looked as though it could be another day when the ball just would not go in for him, but them came goals in the 82nd, 84th and 85th minutes.
The first was created by McClean, who broke through down the left and might have shot but squared to Noble to finish from 12 yards.
The striker’s second came when he sprinted on to a through ball and his third was his best when he showed good composure to drive a rising shot across Turner.
The quick-fire hat-trick will grab the headlines, but Bruce will have been equally encouraged by the displays of the midfield four.
In defence, Bramble played his first game since his suspension, alongside Matt Kilgallon, who hopes to leave on loan in January. Both players handled the conditions well and played largely within themselves against a toothless attack which failed to extend them.
SUNDERLAND: Carson, Bagnall, Bramble, Kilgallon, Liddle, Meyler, Vaughan, Gardner, McClean Cook (sub Noble 58), Ji. Subs: Wilson, Egan, Laing, Reed.
SCUNTHORPE: Tuner, Lacey, Nelson, Palmer, Jackson, Fells, Hornsey, Greenhoff, Robertson, Thewlis, Matthews. Subs: Akeister, Waring, Thomas, Howe, Hooton.