DARREN Bent enjoyed a dream Sunderland debut as his first-half header earned the Black Cats an opening-day win at Bolton.
Bents fifth-minute strike handed boss Steve Bruce a winning start to his Sunderland career, and represented the first return on the £10m the Wearsiders spent to acquire the England international this summer.
Bents goal came at the start of a fine first-half display from the Black Cats, and while Bolton came back into things after the break, the visitors deserved to take all three points from the Reebok Stadium.
Bent made the perfect start to his Sunderland career as he opened the scoring in the fifth minute.
Steed Malbranque worked a short free-kick routine with George McCartney, and Bent rose at the back post to head the Frenchmans cross across Jussi Jaaskelainen and into the corner of the net.
The England international combined effectively with Kenwyne Jones throughout the first half, and with both Malbranque and Kieran Richardson prompting intelligently from midfield, the visitors bossed matters before the interval.
The only thing missing was a second goal, with Jaaskelainen saving well from Richardson after the midfielder broke clear and also parrying a low effort from Bent that was destined for the bottom corner.
Bolton offered little before the break, but there was a warning for Sunderland in first-half stoppage time as goalkeeper Marton Fulop was forced to produce an outstanding save to deny Gary Cahill.
Cahill met Matt Taylors right-wing cross inside the six-yard box, but Fulop fashioned an excellent point-blank save to keep the defenders header out.
Bolton went close again six minutes into the second half, Taylor stabbing wide after Johan Elmander flicked on a long throw, but the Black Cats would have scored at the other end had Jones opted to pass to the unmarked Bent instead of firing a tame effort straight at Jaaskelainen.
The Trotters were much-improved after the interval, and Fulop was forced to produce the save of the game in stoppage time to secure the visitors all three points.
The Sunderland defence failed to clear Sam Ricketts long throw, but Fulop made an excellent save to keep out Sean Davis low shot.