Well well. That was unexpected to say the least! At half time you could almost hear Steve Bruce preparing his "ner-ner, ner-ner-ner" speech, and he would have been right to give it. Plenty of people, including myself, have voiced their displeasure at the club this week, but today that's all forgotten whilst we enjoy a much needed victory.
Does one swallow make a summer? Today, it does. Lets just enjoy it...The under-pressure Brucey put his neck on the line in terms of team selection, choosing to continue with a lone striker in the shape of Nicklas Bendtner, whilst also relegating Jack Colback to the bench. Having Lee Cattermole on the bench somewhat softened the blow, and prior to kick off I think we all feared for the worst. Again.
However, for the first time in God knows how long, our early pressure actually came to something, with Titus Bramble getting his first goal of the season. Sebastian Larsson's corner was never fully cleared, and there lurking like a massive goal-scoring bear was Titus Bramble to fire low underneath Asmir Begovic from 12 yards. 1-0. The perfect start, and we're all in dreamland.
The dream which got even better 5 minutes later, when Jonathan Woodgate, formerly of Newcastle and Middlesboro gave us a two goal lead. Sebastian Larsson again the instigator, as he swung one in from the left hand side towards Nicklas Bendtner, but Woody beat him to it and looped the header over Begovic. 2-0. Thank you very much.
Stoke were by no means out of this, and decided to take a trip into our half for a bit following the second, but defensive combinations of Wes Brown, Titus Bramble and in particular Simon Mignolet all kept Crouch & Co at bay. Simon Mignolet particularly impressive, as we all know Stoke like to chuck in in the air, and Mignolet loves to flap, but the Belgian was solid throughout the first half.
After weathering the Stoke storm, which included a mighty freekick from Mark Wilson, we went thee up. THREE GOALS. AT HOME. THIS ACTUALLY WAS HAPPENING. Nicklas Bendtner slipped Craig Gardner in, and his shot looped over Begovic after hitting a sliding Ryan Shawcross.
In the lead up to half time, Stoke tested us again through Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome, but the defence were up to it. No bother at all really. Stephane Sessegnon and David Vaughan (starting ahead of Cattermole & Colback) both fired at the keeper form distance, but we went into half time 3-0 up, and somewhat strangely, it felt right. Fully justified for a thoroughly dominant half.
The second half started with little fanfare, and a much slower tempo with much of the hard work already done. Stoke pressed and probed in the opening 10 minutes, with one header in particular Crouch should have done better with, but again, Mignolet was strong enough to deal with things. Even a rather unnecessary and unsavory Robert Huth kick in the shins.
Tenaciously chasing things down up front was a feature of our play yet again, and Stephane Sessegnon showed what a powerhouse he is in first robbing Wilson, then out foxing Huth to draw a freekick on the edge of the area. Enter Sebastian Larsson, who's set-play prowess had already been evident from a set of corners so far, and his freekick flew into the bottom corner from a smidge under 20 yards. 4-0. Spirits could not be dampened. Not even by the previously mentioned Huth throttling Nicklas Bendtner, unseen by both referee and linesman.
From then on it was simply a case of seeing the game through in a professional manner, which we did in style. Whenever Stoke did manage a rare foray towards our penalty area, nothing came of it as the defence stood firm, or Peter Crouch completely missed the ball from six yards out unmarked.
Up front, Bendtner's movement and Sessegnon's skills caused all sorts of problems for the visitors, and not a single player in red and white could be faulted for their performance today.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (9), O'Shea (7), Brown (9), Bramble (8), Richardson (7), Larsson (8), Vaughan (7), Gardner (8), Elmohamady (7), Sessegnon (8), Bendtner (8)
Subs Used: Colback (7), Dong-Won (6), Wickham (6)
Man Of The Match: Simon Mignolet - How, on a day where we win 4-0, can the keeper end up man of the match? Well that's the weird world of Sunderland Association Football Club. Mignolet's prone to a flap, a weak punch and a spot of bad positioning for good measure. Today we feared the worst with Stoke coming to town, but he seemed a changed man. Strong in the air, quick to on rushing attackers, and dare I say it dominant? Honorable mentions for Wes Brown, Titus Bramble, Stephane Sessegnon and... well... everyone actually.
All in all a very welcome if unexpected performance. Steve Bruce might have been feeling some pressure prior to kick-off, and yeah we were all a bit narked, but today we showed flashes of being the team we always thought we could be.
Some people say football is fickle, I'd say its reactionary. Earlier this week we let our best striker and record signing go out on loan to the UAE. We rightly questioned what the hell was going on at the club, and voiced our displeasure at these events combined with some seriously inept performances. Today, we were magnificent all over the pitch, and deserved the win, so lets just enjoy it eh?
Ha'way The Lads.