SUNDERLAND turned in an exhilarating performance to blow Watford away – and left manager Alan Durban wishing for regular repeats.
The Rokermen climbed to eighth-bottom spot after what Durban described as the best performance since he took charge of the Red and Whites two years earlier.
But he warned his delighted players: “If we are going to be any good then we must produce performances like that weekly and not annually.
“For the first time since I came to the club, I felt genuine warmth for the players from all parts of the ground.”
The big win saw Sunderland move towards erasing the nightmare memory of an 8-0 trouncing at Watford 14 months earlier, with standing ovations at half-time and full-time rewarding the players’ hard graft.
The Hornets were a pale shadow of the side which finished runners-up to Liverpool the previous season, but their open play contributed to the most sparkling game at Roker Park in a long time.
Leighton James enjoyed one of his best afternoons in a Sunderland shirt, engineering a series of swift counter-attacks with his precision passing and crossing.
Durban said of the veteran Welshman: “If he gets enough of the ball, he is a match-winner. We tried to do it without him and it didn’t work (reflecting on James’s absence for the first six games of the season).”
James was heavily involved in the opening goal on 26 minutes, setting up the overlapping Nick Pickering, who crossed to the back post for Gary Rowell, who knocked the ball down for birthday boy Colin West to nod home.
West, who turned 21, told the Echo: “I couldn’t have wished for a better occasion – the supporters were terrific, the team won well, and I scored.”
Watford’s George Reilly headed a John Barnes cross against the bar, then ex-Sunderland man Wilf Rostron hooked a Gordon Chisholm header off the line and Gary Rowell fired another effort inches wide.
The game hinged on a lively minute at the start of the second half. Watford went close when Pickering cleared off the line to deny Reilly’s header, and Sunderland switched play quickly to the other end to double their lead.
James cut in an crossed from the left and Mark Proctor steamed in at the back post to head his first league goal for Sunderland, sending the ball wide of the helpless Steve Sherwood.
Confidence began to ooze out of the home team, and both Chisholm and Proctor blasted long-range efforts against the visitors’ woodwork, before Sunderland’s superiority was confirmed by a third headed goal on 72 minutes.
Rowell won a corner, which James centred accurately into the danger zone for Chisholm, who powered in to flash a header into the roof of the net, capping an excellent, all-round display by the Scot.
Durban said: “We have been working on Chisholm for set pieces and we now have something going from them. I now want to see him getting forward more in general play.”
Sunderland could have had more goals, too, with Proctor’s deflected drive finishing just wide and debutant Nigel Walker, whose eight-minute substitute appearance proved to be his sole first-team outing, sending over a corner which led to Rowell’s overhead kick flying over the bar.