It is less than a month since the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, lamented the problems he was facing in attracting what he called the "next bracket" of Premier League-class players to a club shackled with a less than fashionable image.
But times are changing at the Britannia Stadium. On Saturday, Pulis was able to sit £10m worth of recently acquired talent on the substitutes' bench – Robert Huth and Tuncay San – and his team were still too good for a Sunderland side including Darren Bent who, ironically, rejected Stoke's overtures in the summer.
Bent might have changed the course of the game had he accepted one of three first-half chances which came his way. As it was, the former Tottenham striker was left to ponder whether he joined the right team wearing red-and-white stripes as Stoke, though far from sophisticated, suggested they are capable of shifting their ambitions this season beyond mere survival and into the next bracket of Premier League clubs.
Pulis has spent wisely, adding two international players, the German defender Huth and Turkish striker Tuncay, to his capture of midfielder Dean Whitehead, from Sunderland, yet his greatest pleasure was derived from a player he bought 12 months ago.
Striker Dave Kitson, a club record £5.5m signing from Reading, endured a difficult first season at Stoke and was shipped back out on loan to the Madejski Stadium after failing to settle in the Potteries.
His 43rd-minute volley was his first Premier League goal since May last year and, Pulis believes, a turning point. "In management there are some players you have to cuddle and some you have to kick up the backside," said the Stoke manager.
"Dave came back this summer a lot better in his mind. He was much more relaxed as an individual. He's grown more into the group, too. He didn't do that last year because of the problems he was having. We're pleased with that and, hopefully, this is one of many goals he'll score for this football club."
The Sunderland manager, Steve Bruce, was not in the mood to put an arm around any of his players after watching his side succumb to another set-piece goal. Bruce, never afraid of physical combat during his career as a central defender, believes his squad needs "toughening up" and is hoping to sign the Hull defender Michael Turner to add to his capture of John Mensah from Lyons.
"People tell me this was a strong squad last season, but it avoided relegation by the skin of its teeth," Bruce said, "so something must be wrong. The Achilles' heel is the physical element and we've got to deal with that. You have to be able to put your head in where it hurts." Bruce confirmed he has agreed terms with Stoke to sell defender Danny Collins, adding: "It's now up to the player to decide."
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson, Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Etherington (Whitehead, 78); Fuller (Tuncay, 84), Kitson (Huth, 89). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Griffin, Pugh, Cresswell.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Nosworthy, McCartney; Malbranque (Campbell, 58), Cana, Cattermole (Henderson, 80), Richardson (Reid, 58); Bent, Jones. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Collins, Leadbitter, Da Silva.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire)
Booked: Sunderland: Cana, Nosworthy.
Man of the match: Lawrence.
Attendance: 27,091.Reuse content