The dark skies that were surrounding Steve Bruce’s Sunderland after a winter of discontent eventually began to clear after Sunderland beat Bolton Wanderers 4-0 at the Stadium of Light on this day 13 years ago.
This was Sunderland’s first win since they beat Arsenal on 21 November and, although star striker Darren Bent was still scoring consistently, his teammates at the other end were conceding way too many for it to make a difference.
This game was originally due to take place in January, but had been postponed due to the heavy snow storms that hit Great Britain and Ireland – and maybe it was a good thing due to the lack of a squad Bruce would have had at his disposal at that time.
This was a massive game against Owen Coyle's men - who themselves were not firing on all cylinders - though two recent wins had made Bolton’s position a lot healthier than ours.
Sunderland had been suffering from a bit of an injury crisis, but Bruce could name an attacking trio of Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and Frazier Campbell in the starting line up - and it was the former Manchester United youngster who gave the home side the perfect start with less than a minute on the clock.
Skipper Lorik Cana’s hit-and-hope ball into the box landed perfectly at the back post for Campbell, who put the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen from point-blank range.
Instantly, the tension which had engulfed the Stadium of Light in recent months was lifted and, with Ellis Short in the stands, Darren Bent once again proved just how valuable he was to the team.
The early goal had given Sunderland confidence, and the lads were creating plenty of chances through Jones, Bent and also Steed Malbranque, back after being punished for a breach of club discipline. Malbranque had switched wings for this game to the left hand side and his quick feet left Bolton’s defenders in a tizzy.
Sunderland went into the break just one up - and in truth, they were comfortable. With the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ John Mensah dealing with the physicality of Bolton’s target man Kevin Davies, it was all one-way traffic.
Bent’s form came to the fore when the striker struck his first hat trick for the club in the second half.
First, with 64 minutes on the clock, Lee Cattermole slid in Bent, who outpaced Sam Ricketts before firing past Jaaskelainen.
The game was over 10 minutes later when Ricketts, who had been booked for a first-half foul on Jones, barged Bent to the ground inside the box and was yellow-carded for a second time.
Bent comprehensively beat Jaaskelainen from the spot to seal a precious victory, and his third, a neat finish from Campbell’s 88th-minute cross, was just reward for a good night’s work.
After the game, Bruce praised the form of his main man – and refused to get into the topical debate of Bent’s inclusion in the England squad.
I have had a bad enough time trying to pick a team for the last three months, so I am not going to tell Fabio Capello how to do it.
All I can say is he (Darren Bent) must be in his thoughts, he has to be because of his goalscoring exploits.
No disrespect to us, but to be at a team in the bottom half of the table and get what he has got, it’s fantastic.