Sunderland 4 - 0 Bolton
Sunderland finally overcame their demons tonight and produced a fine display against an in-form Bolton to win by four goals to nil.
The Wearside faithful will be all the more buoyant because it wasn`t a 1-0 scuffle of a match - we absolutely drummed the trotters into the ground.
Even more unlikely than the dramatic scoreline were the players who shone in particular.
Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones were always going to figure prominently, but outstanding performances from out-of-position players Frazier Campbell, Anton Ferdinand and the immeasurable Steed Malbranque were the highlight of the night.
The atmosphere as you entered the stadium was tense and cold, but the Black Cats couldn`t have gotten off to a better start. Cana battled well and looped the ball to the back post, where Campbell prodded over Jaaskelainen to send Sunderland ahead inside the first minute.
Bruce glanced to the heavens - a gesture emulated in the heart of every home fan in the stadium.
It seemed as though the players were cleansed of their doubts for the rest of the game, the belief was back. Slick attacking and deft passing led to a number of chances before half time.
The best of which fell to Darren Bent. Campbell pinged a 50-yard pass across field from right to left - taking out the whole of the Bolton defence. This left Bent with the opportunity to make it 2-0, but he took one touch too many and hit a mis-balanced shot wide of the mark.
Bolton managed a series of corners and free-kicks (which Bennett was enjoying awarding) and caused a few scares without dominating. Sunderland lead at half time and Bruce had a chance to calm his players down and keep them motivated.
Malbranque topped his first half display by crafting Sunderland`s second goal on the hour mark. The Belgian played an acute reverse pass to find Cattermole, who played Bent through on goal, giving Mr Dynamite the type of chance he does not miss.
More magic from Steed followed, as he turned neatly and split the Bolton back line with a great pass. Sam Ricketts climbed all over Bent as he was through on goal. He fouled the striker, conceding a penalty and received his second yellow card of the match to reduce Bolton to ten men.
And of course Benty dispatched the penalty kick with minimal fuss to put the match way beyond the despairing Trotters.
Kenwyne Jones had a goal disallowed after Bent`s shot rebounded off the post and the Trinidad & Tobago international was adjudged to be offside. A pity, considering Jones put in a tonne of work and would have deserved to notch.
But the fourth goal eventually game from Bent - who completed his first Sunderland hat-trick in superb fashion. Frazier Campbell added an assist to his goal when he pulled back from the byline to find bent near the penalty spot, who only needed one touch to smash past Jaaskelainen and round off a brilliant display.
There were so many positives from the match, not least the three vital points. But excellent performances from every player on the pitch meant that the win was well deserved. Craig Gordon made a few saves and actually commanded his box excellently, taking crosses and zipping off his line quickly. Ferdinand looked comfortable at left back and a certain improvement on McCartney.
Mensah and Turner were strong and won everything in the air, while Hutton supported the attack brilliantly and was solid in defence.
Campbell scored one and set one up, and constantly looked a threat, while Malbranque was my man of the match. A tireless work ethic was coupled with sublime skill and vision, making him unplayable.
Cana looked strong and confident again, winning headers and tackles and passing well. Cattermole looked a little rusty but made a few good tackles and set up Bent`s first.
Kenwyne Jones ran his socks off and won header after header. Those who brand him lazy should watch his performance again and question their eyesight. Last but not least Darren Bent has been Sunderland`s shining beacon of hope this season and a hat-trick capped off a fine display for him tonight.
Great running and excellent retention of possession were equalled only by his razor-sharp finishing.
Man City will be a whole different beast, but don`t we feel that little bit more belief now?