Steve Bruce liked his big-money signings. To be sure. After all, the prospect of splashing out a bit was one of the reasons he joined Sunderland – remember the ‘shopping at Harrods’ quote?
I’m not sure it ever really transpired in that way. It’s not often you see Marco Angeleri and Titus Bramble on the shelves of the Al Fayed Emporium, but still. He liked the thought, at least.
A couple of months into his reign, and things were going pretty well.
His big money buys – Bent, Cana and Cattermole – were settling in well; we were sat in an early-season eighth place, and had cruised past Norwich in our first league cup fixture, courtesy of a brilliant chip from a slimline Andy Reid, which was gloriously observed by a ‘full kit wanker’ mag in the crowd.
Yes, Steve Bruce in his pre-match interview before that tie had extolled the virtues of his former Norwich teammate and Sunderland legend Gary ‘Rowett’, but we could forgive that when results were going relatively well.
As well as enjoying splashing the cash, Brucie liked looking for left-field signings. To be fair to him, he’d enjoyed success with that strategy at Wigan – Palacios, Rodellega and Zaki, for example, had been excellent buys for Wigan, and in the days before directors of football, we were hoping Bruce had brought along his contact book, too.
Two of his early overseas signings were given home debuts in our next league cup time, when we took on Bruce’s former club Birmingham at the Stadium of Light. John Mensah was relatively well known to the average football fan; Paolo Da Silva less so.
Still, the two of them lined up in a defence that showed three changes from the previous weekend’s heavy defeat at Burnley – only Michael Turner surviving, and Ferdinand, Bardsley and McCartney having a breather.
Kenwyne Jones had been surprisingly relegated to the bench at Turf Moor in favour of another of Bruce’s big-money buys, Frazier Campbell, and the two of them started up front with Darren Bent sitting this one out.
As well as getting a first look at Mensah and Da Silva, however, another point of interest for the crowd was young Jordan Henderson.
Henderson had been set to make a genuine breakthrough for a little while, having made his debut the previous season and earning a start in the league cup before a loan spell at Coventry, where he’d really impressed before suffering an injury that had curtailed his season.
Seeing his potential, and showing he could also appreciate a young, local talent, Bruce had given Henderson his full Premier League debut as we went down to Chelsea in the season’s first home time, however, the youngster had been restricted to cameos since then.
This was an opportunity for Henderson to impress in his favoured central midfield position against a team that included Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips – and the youngster took it with gusto.
The game was only four minutes old when Henderson grabbed his first goal for his boyhood club – picking the ball up from Jones and calmly slotting past keeper Maik Taylor.
Sunderland eventually made it two on 23 after missing a string of chances, Frazier Campbell also getting off the mark for the club after fine work by Andy Reid.
After that, it was all fairly routine. The lads could – should – have had more, while Da Silva and Mensah cruised through the tie with ease, and ‘the Rock’ even had a goal disallowed in the second half.
It was all fairly routine stuff, and a reminder that you just never know when you’re going to see those momentous moments in footballing folklore take place.
Henderson went on to establish himself as an important player under Bruce, but only scored another four goals for the club – two of which came in one game versus Wigan towards the end of his spell at the club.
For now, at least, the future was bright – and it was most certainly red and white.