It had been a summer of change at Sunderland in 2009.
The club had barely survived after a complete collapse in form during 2008/2009, and Ricky Sbragia had subsequently resigned from the manager’s job, looking visibly relieved when the club announced his departure.
Despite Niall Quinn announcing on Sky that Sbragia ‘had a job for life’ at Sunderland, the Scot departed, with Steve Bruce taking over and beginning an overhaul of a squad that had looked particularly stale and inflated in the aftermath of Roy Keane’s time in charge.
Lorik Cana, Lee Cattermole and Fraizer Campbell were all acquired by the first game against Bolton Wanderers, but it was the protracted arrival of Darren Bent that everyone was talking about on the eve of this fixture.
After months of negotiations with the notoriously difficult Daniel Levy, we finally got our man, and he was thrown straight in for the first game of the season at the Reebok Stadium.
We started like a team that had a point to prove to their new manager. We created an abundance of opportunities during the first half and probably should’ve been further ahead at the break.
That being said, it didn’t take long to make the breakthrough, with debutant Bent scoring after only five minutes when Steed Malbranque whipped a cross to the far post and Bent got above his marker to head across the goal and past Jussi Jååskelåinen at the far post.
After that, we kicked on, and were slicker, faster and completely in control, with Bolton chasing shadows in the first half, much to the disappointment of their manager Gary Megson.
I’m hugely disappointed in terms of the result and also the first half - we weren’t anywhere near like we needed to be.
We gradually came into it. Sunderland were the better side in the first forty five minutes.
The chances kept coming and it was our own fault for allowing Bolton to stay in the game.
Kieran Richardson couldn’t convert from a one-on-one situation with Jååskelåinen, and Bent then shot wide on the turn before going close again, with the Finn saving the former Spurs forward’s shot at full stretch.
Kenwyne Jones, our top scorer with twelve goals in 2008/2009, twice headed wide as the game approached the half hour mark and Bent lofted the ball wide just before the break.
All these missed chances gave Bolton a chance of getting something from the game, and whatever Megson said to them at half time worked wonders, as they were a different outfit in the second half and were almost unlucky not to grab a point.
They came desperately close to going in level at the break, but Marton Fulop produced a stunning reaction save to keep out Gary Cahill’s close range header.
Matthew Taylor toe-poked wide and Johan Elmander fired over as the hosts came out strongly, before Cahill took a fierce Jones volley full in the face when we went back on the attack.
Just after the hour mark, Fulop had to claw a looping Davies header off the line to maintain our 1-0 lead and Elmander soon flashed a fierce shot across the face of our goal.
Luckily for us, Fulop was in great form and played a major role in securing a first win for the new manager.
After the game, much of the talk was about our new striker and Bruce couldn’t hide his happiness in getting the signing over the line (along with the win) after such arduous negotiations.
I can’t remember coming away from home and having so many chances like we did in the first half. If I could fault anything it would be not making the game safe.
In the end the keeper had to produce a fantastic save. I think it would have been unjust, mind you [if they had secured a draw].
I thought we were outstanding in the first half, in the second half we had to dig deep a bit.
Bent’s young. He’s the right age and it’s a great start for him. All the weeks of negotiation and hard work paid off, but overall I thought the team was very good. I’m very, very pleased.
It was the perfect start for Bruce who would add further signings in the shape of central defenders Michael Turner, John Mensah and Paolo Di Silva. As for Bent? The striker notched a phenomenal twenty four goals during his first season at the club.
Saturday 15 August 2009
Barclays Premier League, Reebok Stadium, Bolton
Sunderland 1 (Bent 5’)
Sunderland: Fulop, Bardsley, Collins; Ferdinand, Cattermole, Malbranque (Henderson 45’); Richardson (Campbell 77’), Cana, Bent; Jones
Bolton Wanderers: Jååskelåinen, Robinson, Cahill; Knight, Ricketts, McCann (Lee 68’); Muamba, Taylor, Davis; Elmander (Ward 83’), Davies