If such a thing exists, you could say with some certainty that Sunderland’s 2009/2010 campaign was a very ‘Steve Bruce’ kind of season.
Our final league position of thirteenth was respectable enough, even if the numbers (eleven wins, eleven draws, thirteen defeats) were not exactly eye-catching.
Our ace card was undoubtedly Darren Bent, who had turned in an almost Kevin Phillips-like season in front of goal. Meanwhile, Lorik Cana had taken to the captaincy with ease, and despite some periods of iffy form, we managed to keep ourselves ahead of the pack.
In short, we were solid and capable of playing some enterprising football at times, but in classic Bruce fashion, were also prone to the odd horrendous day at the office- and the 7-2 thrashing at Stamford Bridge is the result that springs to mind.
Nevertheless, when the music stopped, we secured our place in the Premier League for a fourth consecutive season, had seemingly shaken off the label of ‘yo-yo club’ and could continue to look forward with some optimism.
This being a World Cup year, there was an added sense of expectation- would we be casting our net further afield in order to strengthen the squad? Would Ellis Short continue to provide the funds needed to keep us in the hunt for mid-table stability?
In terms of departures, this was the second summer in a row during which time Sunderland bade farewell to a number of key players, with the final remnants of our early Premier League teams being moved on, and a genuinely new squad being constructed in its wake.
Powerhouse striker Kenwyne Jones left for Stoke City, with the Potters paying £8 million to secure his services. His departure was followed by that of stalwart Daryl Murphy, who moved to Celtic for a fee of £1.5 million, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, captain Lorik Cana, after a single yet highly effective campaign on Wearside, was loaned to Galatasaray.
One key position that Sunderland did strengthen early in the window in was in goal.
With Craig Gordon’s injury concerns lingering, and with the late Marton Fulop having made a summer switch to Ipswich Town, it was obvious that a quality addition was needed, and we certainly struck gold.
To that end, Belgian international Simon Mignolet was signed from Sint-Truiden for £2 million. At the time, the young stopper was an unknown quantity, similar to Thomas Sorensen when he arrived over a decade earlier, but by the time he eventually departed for Liverpool in 2013, he did so having made a very positive impression on Wearside.
Bruce also dipped into the South American market once again, bringing the exotically-named duo of Cristian Riveros and Marcos Angeleri to Wearside, but in a similar fashion to many of the names we signed from far and wide in the summer of 2013, neither made any real impact in red and white.
The defence was further bolstered when former Ipswich and Newcastle United defender Titus Bramble joined from Wigan- not to universal acclaim, given his somewhat dodgy reputation, and he was accompanied by highly-rated Manchester City youngster Nedum Onuoha, who turned in some classy displays and whose eye-catching slaloming run and calm finish during that 0-3 away victory over Chelsea was one of the moments of the season.
The summer of 2010 also saw the addition of the immensely popular Ahmed Elmohamady, who would later follow Bruce to Hull City and subsequently to Aston Villa. The Egyptian, signed on a loan deal from ENPPI SC, impressed from the start with some marauding performances down the flank.
To further pep up our attack and provide additional support for Bent, Bruce used his Manchester United connections to secure the services of Danny Welbeck on a season-long loan. Welbeck became a popular figure at the Stadium of Light, and although he ‘only’ chipped in with six league goals, it was easy to see why United rated him highly.
The headline-grabbing transfer was still to come. however, and following his sterling efforts in helping Ghana to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, Sunderland broke their transfer record to sign the highly-rated Asamoah Gyan from Rennes, with Ellis Short bankrolling a £13 million swoop.
At the time, this was a tremendous coup for the club, with Bruce himself conceding that it had cost a ‘hell of a lot of money’ but also describing Gyan as a ‘top class striker’.
To many fans- myself certainly included- the prospect of a red and white forward line of Bent, Gyan and Welbeck, feeding off the service provided by the likes of Steed Malbranque, was a mouthwatering prospect. Indeed, Gyan’s impact was almost instant, as he scored a superb goal against Wigan following a sumptuous pass from a young Jordan Henderson- the first of ten league goals he would net in 2010/2011.
To my mind, the summer of 2010 concluded with Sunderland having assembled their strongest squad since the beginning of the 2000/2001 season. By the time the window closed, we could call upon genuine quality in a multitude of positions, and it felt as though the long-desired ‘time to kick on’ ambition was ever closer to being realised.
Sadly, one year later, the picture would change again, and most certainly not for the better, but that was an issue for another day.