It has taken two years longer than he would have liked but David Nugent finally felt at home in the Premier League yesterday as he came off the bench to score two goals that maintained Burnley's perfect Premier League record at Turf Moor.
Nugent's tale has been one that sums up modern football for many young English players. As the hottest of hot prospects with Preston, he even scored for England in the 3-0 win over Andorra in March 2007, and Harry Redknapp paid £6 million to take him to Portsmouth that July.
But after failing to score in his first two Premier League games for Portsmouth, missing a great opportunity in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United, he found himself largely ignored by Redknapp, who admitted he would listen to offers for the player just weeks after signing him. Unlike a £6m fee, time was not something Redknapp could afford.
While the likes of Michael Chopra have accepted their fate and dropped back down to the Championship, Nugent regularly rejected offers to move down a level to spark his career but a row with team-mate Marc Wilson, which reportedly involved Nugent, 24, being hit with a stick, resulted in both players being sent home from a training camp last month and all but ended his Fratton Park career.
He joined Burnley on loan until the new year on deadline day and plans not to return – but how different it could have been for him on the south coast if he had got off to such a start.
Following a 20-minute run-out in the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool last weekend, Owen Coyle threw him on just before the hour with the scores level at 1-1 and the striker did the rest.
From an inviting Wade Elliott cross 10 minutes later, he guided a firm header in at the near post to restore Burnley's lead and then, with four minutes left, spun just inside the area and curled a left-foot shot past Craig Gordon to end any Sunderland hopes. Nugent had even the home fans who just a few weeks earlier despised him for his Preston past calling for an England recall.
Though many Portsmouth fans will be scratching their heads, Coyle was unsurprised at the display of clinical finishing. "I've got so much belief that David Nugent is a top-class player and that's why we brought him to the football club," the home manager said.
"I speak to him on a daily basis on the training ground. Day by day he's looking sharper and looking stronger. He showed that with the freshness when he came on, and his two finishes were top-class. He has to use that now as a stepping stone. I'd love to have him on a permanent basis and he's happy – and as long as he's happy I know he'll express that on the pitch."
One of Nugent's former Preston team-mates, Graham Alexander, got Burnley on their way from the spot in the 13th minute after Anton Ferdinand's needless trip on Elliott inside the area, the veteran midfielder firing past his fellow Scotland international Gordon to convert his 67th out of 72 career penalties.
Darren Bent, unstoppable at the moment, levelled on 39 minutes after Burnley had failed to close down Andy Reid on the edge of the area. The Irish midfielder's through-ball was collected by the former Tottenham forward, who was played onside by Clarke Carlisle, and he guided it around Brian Jensen for his fifth goal of the season.
The Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce, even threw on a third striker in Kenwyne Jones as he looked for a winner but it was Nugent that made the crucial contribution.
"Nugent gave them the spark and they scored two great goals," Bruce said. "But if we'd repeated the first-half performance we would have won the match. I'm disappointed that we let them off the hook because they were there for the taking."Reuse content