Sunderland have had an exceedingly strange beginning to the season with a draw at home that should have been a win, a halfway decent performance away that ended in defeat and a spirited display at home for three points that could have easily been a bad loss. Throughout these three performances Steve Bruce's side have shown that at times they can be a well drilled unit that can play football with the best in the league.
Though they stumbled to a painful draw at home on opening day, this match could so easily have been a solid victory that gave them the start they needed. Instead Lee Cattermole was sent off for two silly bookings, the second, a totally unnecessary tackle on Lee Bowyer. Birmingham, and in particular Sebastian Larsson, who twice delivered excellently precise set pieces to set up their goals, did show excellent resolve in grabbing the requisite goals. However, Steve Bruce was understandably annoyed with his side throwing away a two goal lead.
The second match was away to WBA, who had been torn apart on opening day by a rampaging Chelsea. Again in this match Sunderland did play well for a reasonable portion of the match, meaning Albion keeper Scott Carson had to be on his game, though over ninety minutes they again let themselves down with new Baggies signing, Nigerian Peter Odemwingie, grabbing a goal on debut with nine minutes left to play.
The third match against Manchester City's millionaires was another patchy performance from the Black Cats and realistically, Steve Bruce would have been pinching himself on the sideline at the end to make sure that it was not some wonderfully quirky dream.
Yaya Toure and City had been so dominant in the early stages of the match that it looked like being a long afternoon for Bruce, who would certainly have been emotionally charged considering his time as captain of City's greatest rivals, Manchester United. Ivorian Toure was in a different class early on and set his team mate Carlos Tevez up for the simplest of finishes as early as the sixteenth minute, the Argentinian inexplicably missing an open goal after getting his foot too far under the ball.
City were however in excellent mind and consistently pressured the home side before going into the break with the scores level. Steve Bruce was able to shake his lads up after the break and they came out with a bit more fire in their belly and a lot more confidence than they had shown previously. City started to make hard work of it and even the hugely impressive Toure began to look a slightly different player. Sunderland's new vigor ended up propelling them to the points, with the impressive Egyptian star Ahmed Elmohamady putting a dangerous ball in for the hardworking Darren Bent, only for Micah Richards to drag the Sunderland front man down on the edge of the six yard box.
Bent stood up to take the penalty and though it was certainly not the best spot kick you will ever see, just sneaking under the dive of City custodian Joe Hart, it hit the back of the net and Sunderland had the points.
In the aftermath it is obvious that this result could be the watershed moment for Steve Bruce and his side. They have shown that they can definitely play, though inconsistency that has dogged them in the last few seasons has already been evident in their opening three matches. The signing of Ghana star Asamoah Gyan is a credit to the ambition of the club and gives Darren Bent further reason to play well. As well as potentially giving Bruce another option when arranging formations that could incorporate both of these powerful strikers.
Anton Ferdinand made an impressive return against Manchester City as well, underlining the quality that made him such a high profile signing for the club. It is high time he really delivered on the promise he has shown earlier in his career.
Egyptian Ahmed Elmohamady, his cross on the weekend proving the undoing of City, is known as Egypt's ''Beckham' and gives Sunderland excellent service from wide positions, something that Steve Bruce will hope comes to the fore with the size and ability of his two main strikers.
Steve Bruce is a very consistent and competent manager and will always be hoping for a chance to eventually emulate his former boss Alex Ferguson. He has assembled a side here that could finally give Sunderland the ability to end the terrible away form that has dogged their success in recent years. With a solid spine and creative players throughout the squad he will hope the morale boosting victory over the most star studded side in the premier league will galvanize his team with the steely resolve that is needed for them to be consistent performers in the EPL.
The ingredients are there for them to make some waves this season, and to knock over more of the leagues big guns. Certainly this season there will be a trepidation for high profile visitors that does not come at other grounds with the result that the weekend gone has shown. Sunderland can and should build on this result and Steve Bruce will do everything in his power to make sure this happens. It would not be at all surprising to the this writer to see more of the leagues more fancied sides falter against this team, the question will be, can they perform on their travels as well?
If they can, they could quite easily push for a Europa league spot, and take more points the bigger sides can simply not afford to give away.
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