Bent gives Sunderland winning start
Darren Bent finally did his talking on the pitch with a superb debut goal to hand Sunderland victory over Barclays Premier League rivals Bolton Wanderers. The £10m signing from Tottenham Hotspur dispatched Steed Malbranque's cross with a brilliant far-post header in the fifth minute to give new Black Cats manager Steve Bruce a winning start to his reign.
Bent, 25, recently made the headlines for the wrong reasons after he publicly criticised Tottenham and expressed his desire to join Sunderland. Eventually granted his move to Wearside, the England international looked well and truly at home in the red and white of Sunderland.
Dovetailing effectively with Kenwyne Jones throughout, Bent's pace was a constant threat to the Bolton backline and he was unlucky not to add to his tally. With new recruits Lee Cattermole and Lorik Cana also making impressive debuts in midfield, Sunderland totally dominated the first half and could have been at least 3-0 up at the break.
Jussi Jaaskelainen denied both Bent and Kieran Richardson and other opportunities came and were spurned. Yet Sunderland's 5,500-strong army of travelling supporters headed back to Wearside confident that fights with relegation are a thing of the past. The Black Cats finished fifth bottom last season with a pitiful points tally of 36 after a miserable campaign.
The appointment of Bruce, and the significant funds he has subsequently spent, has encouraged hopes that Sunderland can push for a top-ten finish this season. His men were certainly too good for Bolton, who were booed off at half-time and again at the final whistle after looking impotent in attack for long periods.
Black Cats strike
Sam Ricketts, Paul Robinson, Zat Knight and Sean Davis all made their debuts for the Trotters following their arrivals from Hull City, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Portsmouth respectively. Yet Sunderland were soon celebrating as they opened the scoring inside the fifth minute with a classic header from Bent.
George McCartney found Malbranque in the left channel and he flighted in a wicked cross to the far post, where Bent rose above Robinson to plant a firm header past Jaaskelainen. The visiting fans celebrated wildly, but they were almost silenced moments later when Fabrice Muamba sliced a fierce 20-yard shot wide of Marton Fulop's goal. Yet Jones collected possession in the eighth minute and drove a thunderous shot goalwards that Bolton fans were relieved to see deflected out for a corner.
Cattermole seemed to cover every blade of grass for the visitors and twice within the space of as many minutes Sunderland could have scored. In the 20th minute Bent and Malbranque combined to send Richardson clear through on goal, but Jaaskelainen raced off his line to parry the midfielder's left-foot shot from 14 yards. Sunderland pressed again moments later when a vicious low cross from Richardson found Bent at the far post and he swivelled before driving a low left-foot shot inches wide of the far post with Jaaskelainen beaten.
Jones then headed over from 12 yards out and in the 25th minute Bent played a delightful one-two with Malbranque before drawing another fine save from Jaaskelainen with a low drive. Bolton's best hope seemed to be a long punt up to Kevin Davies or Johan Elmander, but Sunderland's centre-back pairing of Anton Ferdinand and Danny Collins never looked in any serious trouble.
In the 40th minute, Bent raced onto a lofted pass from Richardson and clipped the ball over Jaaskelainen, but just wide of the post as Bolton breathed again. Fulop was finally tested on the stroke of half-time when Matt Taylor's in-swinging corner was headed goalwards by Gary Cahill, but his close-range header was repelled by Fulop's instinct save.
Bolton handed a debut to South Korea midfielder Chung-Yong Lee in the 67th minute when he replaced former Sunderland midfielder Gavin McCann. Elmander then drilled a wicked cross-shot just wide of Fulop's goal a minute later as Sunderland continued to hold firm.
Campbell came off the bench to replace the injured Richardson in the 76th minute, but Bent and Jones continued to spearhead the attack. Fulop emerged the hero in injury-time when Davis drove goalwards from 14 yards, but had the Sunderland goalkeeper deny him with a brilliant parried save.