Bent's hat-trick ends Bruce wait

Sunderland 4 Bolton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

What had promised to be an uncomfortable hour or so in the company of Ellis Short today will now be a rather less fraught affair for Steve Bruce. Manager and billionaire club owner will no doubt be happy to discuss the £10m wisely invested on Darren Bent, whose hat-trick sealed Sunderland's first win in 15 games.

Fraizer Campbell perhaps thought he might hog this morning's headlines after grabbing the Premier League's fastest goal this season – just 41 seconds had elapsed when the makeshift winger profited from some statuesque Bolton defending to break the deadlock from close range after a lofted pass into the area from Lorik Cana.

Bent, however, had other ideas, taking centre stage after the break with three goals in 24 minutes to ensure Bolton remain just five points above the drop zone, one shy of Sunderland. "It's been a long time coming so it's certainly a relief," conceded Bruce.

He added: "The early goal gave us a huge lift and in the end it was a resounding win. We could have scored eight and it's up to us now to finish the season on a high." Most Sunderland fans would settle for the avoidance of a third consecutive relegation battle.

An impressive start to the second-half saw Bolton look capable of coming back to secure a third successive victory as they pressed hard for an equaliser, only to leave themselves open to a Steed Malbranque-inspired counter-attack that enabled Bent to cut inside Sam Ricketts to double the advantage shortly after the hour.

Ricketts's last contribution came 10 minutes later when a push on Bent earnt the defender a second yellow card. Bent confidently thrashed home the resultant penalty, though Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, questioned whether the offence took place in the area. The argument was irrelevant to the outcome, as were his claims of offside as Bent swept home an inviting cut-back from Campbell in the 88th minute to take his season's tally to 19.

"Steve must think all his Christmases have come at once," claimed the Bolton manger, clearly irked at the performance of referee Steve Bennett, a late stand-in for Alan Wiley.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Hutton, Mensah (Zenden 79), Turner, Ferdinand; Campbell, Cana, Cattermole (Bardsley 70), Malbranque (Benjani 85); Jones, Bent. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), McCartney, Da Silva, Kilgallon.

Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Knight, Ricketts, Robinson; Lee, Gardner (Taylor, 73), Muamba (Weiss 58) Wilshere; Davies, Elmander (Klasnic 65). Substitutes not used: Al-Habsi (gk), Samuel, Riga, O'Brien.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Sunderland Cana, Bent; Bolton Lee.

Sent off: Bolton Ricketts (74).

Man of the match: Bent.

Attendance: 36,087.