It was only half time and we all knew anything could happen. But we were three up and then, instead of trying to sit on even so comfortable a lead, we went quickly back on to the offensive and scored a fourth.
Suddenly it was as if there had never been any serious reason to fret. A win of any kind would have made us feel good, so the most neutral of onlookers would need no prize for guessing our response to a thumping victory.
Titus Bramble scored a rare goal, thanks to a goalkeeping error by Begovic, who fumbled the shot on his line, Jonathan Woodgate beat Nicklas Bendtner to a high Larsson cross and headed beautifully over his keeper for a spectacular own goal and then Craig Gardner’s shot from the edge of the area took a deflection on its way into the net.
Sunderland being Sunderland, we still wondered whether the Lads would keep it going. Or would Tony Pulis find it within him to urge Stoke on to a storming second-half comeback?
Seb Larsson, involved in each of the first half goals, calmly dispatched a free kick into the bottom left hand corner from the edge of the area and we had our answer.
There was no fluke to the scoreline. We had played with power and commitment, but also with a fair degree of style. The Stoke threat had amounted to one long throw after another by Rory Delap and one well-struck free kick that Simon Mignolet saved impressively. Mignolet dealt far more confidently with penalty-box bustle that Craig Gordon did in last season’s infamous game at the Britannia.
The midfield of Elmohamady, Gardner, Vaughan and Larsson fought to gain and keep possession. No Cattermole, who will be unhappy to have been relegated to the bench, but this turned out to be the absolutely correct decision and no one can register serious complaint about Steve Buce’s selection. Sessegon and Bendtner were a constant menace and Stoke were frankly never in it, Brown, Bramble and O’Shea coping admirably with whatever Stoke threw at them.
An awful lot was a stake today. We could have put money on it being a tight, nervy affair. When nothing of the sort occurred, it was a revelation.
Only 32,000 turned up. Not a great crowd, which must be partly explained at least by the dismal start to the
season and recent turmoil at the club, but the figures will rise if we build on this outstanding result, starting in particular with the visit to Carrow Road a week on Monday.
Come back to Salut! Sunderland in the next 24 hours or so for Pete Sixsmith’s incomparable analysis of the game.