Steve Bruce had every right to rub the noses of media pundits in the mess of Stoke City’s collapse at the Stadium of Light.
Football, as Plymouth Argyle said in a club statement justifying the sacking of one of Bruce’s Sunderland predecessors, Peter Reid, is a results business.
One of those results – four-nil, without hint of flattery in the scoreline against a team that started the day fourth top, enabled Bruce to gloat at the expense not of Tony Pulis but of the sportswriters (and broadcasters, though he was careful not to mention this when speaking to them) who had predicted his imminent sacking.
The other result, Plymouth’s eighth successive defeat leaving them rooted to the bottom of League Two and facing a humiliating exit from the Football League, was enough to persuade Argyle it was time to dump Reid.
It is doubtful whether Sir Alex Ferguson, with Pep Guardiola as his number two, could have done a jot better and it is highly unlikely that either would have matched Reid’s commitment and worked without pay, settled heating bills or auctioned medals to help the club stay afloat.
Back to Bruce. It does not matter how many times he or his players say otherwise: ours was, until yesterday, a rotten start to the season. The draw at Anfield was commendable, though the second-half rally would have been too little had Liverpool taken their chances earlier. The home defeat to Newcastle was bitterly disappointing, the draw at Swansea did little to suggest a team capable of challenging for a European place and the boys-against-men display at home to Chelsea stirred familiar concerns.
In none of the interviews I have seen or read does the manager so much as mention the feeble exit from the earliest stage of the Carling Cup, against a team newly promoted from League One.
But yes, he is entitled to argue that there was a loss of perspective. Four iffy league games and one cup flop do not amount to disaster. The dismantling of Stoke City was an impressive response to the criticism, all the more so because experience had prepared most Sunderland supporters for a decidedly nervous afternoon rather than a romp.
Equally, though, one grand victory does not represent a comprehensive turn-round. Bruce still has a lot of work to do if he is to win the hearts and minds of doubters, who can be found far from the fevered environment of tabloid newspaper offices and continue to voice reservations about some of his key decisions.
The Chelsea match was sufficiently depressing to have me wavering last week, especially when I reflected on where Gyan’s departure left us in terms of seasoned strike power. I had been firmly in the wait-and-see camp, if you can be firm about dithering in that way, and realised I was beginning to lean towards a need for action. I should have stuck to my guns – four, even five games is far too early to contemplate a potentially disruptive change – and have returned to them now.
But that is not an end to the matter.
Sunderland must now go on to show 4-0 yesterday was no flash in the pan, as 3-0 at Chelsea proved to be last season, but merely a start. It is imperative that we go to Norwich a week tonight and play as convincingly as we did against Stoke. Games against Norwich, West Brom, Arsenal and Bolton – the next four opponents – should be a run to produce a lot of points.
As for Plymouth Argyle and its chairman, Peter Ridsdale, can it be said that they deserve each other?