Larsson pulls the strings to send lethargic Stoke packing
Published 19/09/2011 | 05:00
With the world's largest half-marathon finishing just up the coast earlier in the day, running analogies were inevitable. A beleaguered Steve Bruce had been set up to hit the wall, but cruised in. The Sunderland manager looks to be in it for the long run.
A first victory of the season was never in doubt after two early goals restored the Black Cats' previously brittle confidence. On his first Premier League start for the club, David Vaughan exerted a growing influence on midfield and fully vindicated Bruce's decision to drop his captain, Lee Cattermole.
Tired they may have been, but that was not a sufficient reason for the way Stoke, who made eight changes from the side that earned a point in Kiev three days earlier, surrendered before the interval, shipping three goals in the first 28 minutes.
The visitors were two down inside 11 minutes, courtesy of the stuff of nightmares from goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who allowed a close-range shot from Titus Bramble to squirm beneath his grasp at an early corner from Seb Larsson. The Swede set up the second, with Begovic caught out of position as Jonathan Woodgate, under pressure from Nicklas Bendtner, sent a looping header over the stranded Bosnian from Larsson's ball into the box.
Despite Sunderland's ascendancy, Simon Mignolet was called on to earn his money, notably in helping to repel the predictable threat posed by Rory Delap's long throws. From one of these, the Belgian international blocked a Robert Huth effort, before an acrobatic save from a Marc Wilson free destined for the top corner.
Normal service was soon resumed, and Larsson and Bendtner combined to feed Craig Gardner on the edge of the area, the midfielder's deflected shot finding the net to secure only a second home win since New Year's Day.
Having played a part in the previous three goals, Larsson claimed the fourth for himself 13 minutes into the second-half, curling a 20-yard free-kick into the bottom corner.
Tony Pulis was, as ever, grounded in the face of a comprehensive defeat.
"If you look at the terrible mining disaster in South Wales this week it shows the kind of bubble we operate in here in the Premier League," the Stoke manager said.
"People are working hard to look after their families and they might earn in a year what some of my players earn in a week, so there's no way we'd make an excuse about the travelling for this result.
"There are no excuses from us. You have to take results like this in your stride."