At the helm: The Steve Bruce era

When Ricky Sbragia resigned after the 2008-09 season, Niall Quinn and his board sought a manager with Premier League experience who could help drive Sunderland to the next level.

Steve Bruce was the man they targeted after he helped guide Wigan Athletic into the top half of the top flight the previous season while playing attractive football.

The board backed their man too, giving him a transfer budget to bring in whoever he needed to turn Sunderland into a stable Premier League side.

In the summer of 2009, Bruce smashed the club's transfer record to bring in Darren Bent from Spurs. He later recruited Michael Turner, John Mensah, Lee Cattermole, Lorik Cana, Fraizer Campbell and Paulo Da Silva as he completed a major overhaul of the playing squad. 

An opening day victory at Bolton Wanderers saw Bent net the first of 24 goals in what was a magical season for the striker.

The early season form was good with emphatic wins against Hull City (4-1) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (5-2) coming in the early stages.

A famous Premier League moment also occurred when a beachball came to Bent's aid and deflected past Pepe Reina in the Liverpool net to give Sunderland a 1-0 victory.

After beating Arsenal in November, the team went on a 14-game winless run which saw the side plummet from being European hopefuls to relegation candidates. 

That run ended with a 4-0 victory at home to Bolton Wanderers, and the team ended the season pretty well to finish 13th.

Bruce was again given a war-chest in the summer of 2010 and he broke the club's transfer record again in signing Ghanaian international Asamoah Gyan for £13 million.

Also arriving that summer were Cristian Riveros, Simon Mignolet, Danny Welbeck, Ahmed Elmohamady and Titus Bramble. 

Bruce had built a squad capable of competing for European football and the early season form was solid.

The low point was the 5-1 defeat at St James' Park, but that was followed by arguably the best result of a generation as Sunderland defeated Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. 

Form was strong heading into 2011, with the team firmly in the Europa League battle and sitting in sixth position. 

Unfortunately, the sale of Bent in January 2012 triggered a poor run of results, which was halted late in the season with a 4-2 home victory against Wigan.

Eventually, a tenth-place finish was secured which was the highest the Black Cats had achieved since Peter Reid was at the club ten years earlier.

The club sold Jordan Henderson and Gyan in the summer of 2011 and Bruce reinvested that money in reshaping his squad.

In came Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-Won, Craig Gardner, Seb Larsson, Keiren Westwood, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, David Vaughan, James McClean and Nicklas Bendtner.

Debut boy Larsson scored a peach of an effort against Liverpool on the opening day to get the Lads a point, but what followed was a disappointing 1-0 home defeat against Newcastle – incidentally the last time they beat Sunderland. 

A 4-0 win against Stoke in mid-September was our first win of the season, but it was followed by poor results against Norwich and West Brom.

Bruce’s last win as manager came against Bolton Wanderers away in October and he left the club after not winning any of the next four games.

Overall, Bruce's reign was a one of promise that never quite reached the levels it came close to doing. His squads in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season were good enough to compete for European places but they generally fell away due to a disappointing period of the season.

His building of the team was hampered by the sales of Bent, Henderson and Gyan and unfortunately the team was never able to recover from them departures.

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