"The Manchester City of the North-east" is among the many tags that have been given to Sunderland for the new season, but with Ellis Short's new regime still finding its feet, Steve Bruce's side produced a performance to justify the hype yesterday.
Bruce still hopes to bring in more new players before the end of the month but the four he has already signed brought plenty of life to a team that limped to a goalless draw here three months ago that was just enough to keep them in the Premier League.
Darren Bent (below) produced a goal after just five minutes and Kosovo-born midfielder Lorik Cana was a tidy influence but Lee Cattermole, a £6 million capture from Bruce's old club Wigan, was a revelation in the middle of the field. The snapping aggression is nothing new but he was also able to demonstrate a real authority to his passing in a first-half performance that should have earned Sunderland a far greater advantage as they pulled the hosts apart.
After the break, the Black Cats showed the determination and total concentration to hold on to a result with Bolton pressuring all the way. Marton Fulop had to pull off a fine save from Sean Davis deep into added time to hold on for a victory that offers plenty of hope for the new campaign.
"It's a good start but that's all it is," was Bruce's modest assessment. "It's great when your centre-forward can get off the mark and all that hard work that the chairman has put in and hours of negotiations have paid off because it was well worth it – not just for his goal but his appetite and his work-rate. That got it over the line, the boy's desire to play for us."
Their start could not have been better as Bent rose to guide a header back across goal from Steed Malbranque's cross to give the visitors an early lead. That would have been improved on without Jussi Jaaskelainen's impressive saves from Kieran Richardson and Bent, while Kenwyne Jones should have done better with a couple of headers. Fulop's reaction stop from Gary Cahill was his only work of the opening period.
Bolton continued to struggle to create a decent platform after the interval and Fulop pawed away Kevin Davies' back-header and Johan Elmander missed from 15 yards before a stab at goal from Davis was swatted away by the Sunderland goalkeeper.
"If we set off at a high tempo like Sunderland did," said Bolton manager Gary Megson, "we'll get more results but we got it arse backwards and in the second half we were on the front foot with good tempo and much more committed. If we'd done that in the first half we'd have got a better result."Reuse content