THE TRADITIONAL call for Peter Reid to cheer up has surely never been more redundant.
Rather less than a year on from the heartbreak of losing a Premiership place on penalties, his Sunderland side achieved what they had promised themselves after that disappointment in the play-off final at Wembley by making certain of promotion and all but certain of the First Division title.
Four goals from Kevin Phillips at Gigg Lane last night ended that lost year in a fashion that almost made the wait worthwhile.
Long before his final goal in the last minute the thousands of Mackems who had travelled south to celebrate their return to the top flight were in full party mode. If they had cheered up any more they would have been in danger of bursting.
As promotion clinchers go this was the way to do it in style, although Reid's message on the scoreboard before the match urging fans to stay off the pitch at the end looked a little premature in the nervous opening minutes.
But then Nicky Summerbee's fierce shot was only beaten out by Dean Kiely and, as Phillips went for the rebound, he was toppled by Chris Swailes. Phillips took the penalty himself and Sunderland were on their way.
There was still the odd unexpected turn along the way, however, such as when Bury created an equaliser of the highest calibre, Nick Daws chasing a lost cause into the corner, Chris Billy putting over the centre and Derek Lilley teeing it up for Darren Bullock to hammer a 25-yarder into the top corner.
Sunderland's response was instant and impressive. They went straight back to the other end of Gigg Lane - also occupied by their supporters - and the constantly dangerous Summerbee put in a cross that induced hesitation in the six-yard box. Niall Quinn arrived at the far post to tap in and Sunderland's productive striking partnership had put them in command.
Two more goals from Phillips in the space of as many minutes then enabled them to relax and enjoy the moment. The first was the goal of a side with good fortune flowing in its favour, Kevin Ball and Lee Clark both trying and failing to get shots on target before Phillips pounced to fire in emphatically.
Then Allan Johnston's left-wing corner dropped straight on to the unmarked Phillips' foot and into the net without him having to move a muscle.
It was perhaps inevitable that Sunderland could not quite maintain that momentum in the second half although Quinn, Johnston and Michael Gray - whose penalty miss cost them a Premiership place last year - could all have scored before Bury produced another high-quality response.
They had created their share of chances in a match full of enterprising football and when Daws lashed in an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area 20 minutes into the half, there was a slight tremor of apprehension that the party could still be spoiled. Phillips' curling shot over Kiely in the last minute was, however, the perfect ending.
"He's a natural goalscorer," said Reid. "To get four goals in an important game like that shows his quality."
His fellow striker Quinn was cheerfully throwing the Nationwide bric- a-brac out of the Sunderland dressing-room. "We're not in that League any more," was his explanation.
"I wouldn't go as far as Niall," said Reid. "It's a smashing League, but I'm delighted to be out of it. We've had two disappointments with relegation and then getting beaten in the play-offs, so this is a fantastic feeling."
There was a camera crew with Sunderland last night making a documentary on the history of the penalty shoot-out. This result and its manner ensured that last year's shoot-out is finally just that - history.
Bury (4-4-2): Kiely; Woodward, Lucketti, Swailes, Serrant; West, Daws, Bullock, Billy; Lilley, D'Jaffo. Substitutes not used: Preece, Williams, Littlejohn.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Melville, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, Ball (Holloway 64), Clark, Johnston (Bridges 64); Quinn (Dichio 64), Phillips.
Referee: F Stretton (Nottingham).
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