MANAGERS like to talk about fortune evening itself out over a season, but it took just five days for Lady Luck to make up for the cruelty she had shown Sunderland.
On Tuesday, the Black Cats amassed a32 shots on goal against a positive and purist Blackpool without scoring one.
On Saturday, their first two attempts both found the net.
There were only 19 minutes gone, but against such a dreary Blackburn Rovers outfit, already Sunderland’s New Year was guaranteed to start on a more positive note than 2010 had finished.
In the end it finished 3-0, Danny Welbeck, Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan, the three biggest culprits against Blackpool, all finding the net.
It was Bent’s first goal in six games and, on the quiet, Gyan’s first in seven.
One thing stayed the same – the result again flattered Sunderland’s opponents.
Welbeck and Jordan Henderson chipped shots on to the top of the crossbar in either half and Bent wasted three guilt-edged opportunities even after the release of his early goal.
Where Blackpool had spoiled the party, Blackburn brought a bottle.
Rovers have a bit of a reputation for nastiness, but they were perfect guests.
It looked like Ahmed Elmohaday’s day might have ended as early as the fourth minute when he jarred his neck landing under a meaty David Hoilett tackle.
The Egyptian carried on – he would eventually succumb to double-vision – and Blackburn took pity on him.
Back in midfield after a tactical reshuffle, he was given an embarrassing amount of time to cross the ball – and made the visitors pay.
Elmohaday’s first curling centre found a blue-and-white shirt, but Ryan Nelsen’s header went only as far as Welbeck.
The striker shot towards the left-hand side of the goal, it hit Nelsen and nestled inside the opposite post, beyond Mark Bunn’s despairing reach, for Welbeck’s sixth goal in eight games.
Instantly Sunderland must have sensed their luck had changed.
Eight minutes later it was two, Blackburn again standing off Elmohamady as if they had not noticed he was actually pretty handy at this crossing lark. This time Bent glanced in.
His five-match goalless streak had been the longest of Bent’s Sunderland career and, although he maintained it was not preying on his mind, the celebration suggested otherwise.
One might have expected the floodgates to open, but the game instead slumped into a stupor, like a worn-out grandparent on Christmas Day afternoon. Blackburn seemed to have accepted defeat, even if manager Steve Kean claimed El-Hadji Diouf’s shocking 35th-minute miss – volleying a free-kick wide from three yards after losing Anton Ferdinand – could have changed the game.
What should have been such a positive day for hitman Bent ended on a downer.
When a reverse pass from the excellent Steed Malbranque picked out Kieran Richardson, his cross begged the striker to score another.
The ball was just behind Bent, requiring him to let it hit him rather than going at it, but he had time to redirect it and, from a similar range to Diouf, could not.
Three minutes later he headed over Malbranque’s cross and when Elmohamady’s latest delivery dropped to him 12 yards out, he flashed it wide.
By then he had been poked in the eye and soon left the field squinting, as if to excuse his wastefulness.
It belatedly brought the introduction of Gyan, who had spent the last five minutes driving Bruce around the bend.
When summoned from the touchline, Sunderland’s club record signing could scarcely have looked less enthusiastic.
Afterwards, Bruce explained Gyan’s demotion to the bench was down to the fatigue he fears could cost have him captain Lee Cattermole for a month.
The Ghanaian evidently did not have the energy to do any more than amble back to get stripped.
When the time came for his introduction, he was fussing over his gloves and the moment passed.
Bruce, standing next to him, did not hide his anger.
When he finally made it over the white line, Gyan proved a different animal, however.
He had not found the net since the win over Chelsea, and was clearly determined to put that right.
Boudewijn Zenden picked up the ball on the edge of Sunderland’s area and fed Jordan Henderson, who played it to Gyan lurking on the left.
As he advanced on the area, Gyan’s tunnel vision left him oblivious to the run which put Henderson free in a glorious position.
Instead, he used the defender to mask a shot which curled into the far corner. Ruthless and clinical.
What a difference a year makes!