SUNDERLAND finally got their first win of the season with an emphatic display against a Stoke side who looked as if they were mentally still in Kiev.
Questions were being asked of both sides before this game – Sunderland in terms of ending this barren spell that has plagued them since their opening-day draw at Liverpool, and Stoke in how they would manage juggling Premier League action with their European adventures.
In the end, it was the Black Cats who ticked all the boxes as they showed a grit and determination not seen since that second half at Anfield last month, with the midfield – Sebastian Larsson in particular – bossing their opponents around.
Stoke, meanwhile, found out that if you want European football, then brace yourself for the fatigue that comes with it.
They looked slow and off the pace, as if still bemoaning Dynamo Kiev’s late Europa League equaliser three days earlier.
Their European dilemma, though, is a problem Sunderland long to have.
The hosts got off to a dream start in four minutes when Larsson’s corner picked out the unmarked Titus Bramble on the edge of the box. The defender’s low half-volley took a slight touch off Rory Delap, but Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic looked set for a comfortable save, only to let the ball squirm under his body and creep over the line.
It got even better for the Black Cats seven minutes later with Larsson again the provider – although a Stoke defensive error once more proved to be the decisive factor.
From midway inside the Stoke half, Larsson spotted Nicklas Bendtner’s run and whipped in a dangerous-looking cross. Stoke centre-half Jonathan Woodgate spotted it and chased back to prevent the Danish forward receiving the ball but in doing so, the former Newcastle man headed the ball past Begovic for an own goal.
Stoke, clearly suffering a hangover from Thursday’s jaunt to the Ukraine, finally woke up and put Sunderland under pressure.