Rarely over the past 30 months has David Nugent worn a grin like the one he had yesterday.
After two seasons of misery at Portsmouth, the man who scored the final goal in England’s 3-0 win over Andorra in March 2007 showed the clinical finishing that persuaded Harry Redknapp to spend £6 million to take him to Fratton Park.
His goals earned Burnley a crucial win over Sunderland. It was their third home win out of three but the arrival of Nugent, who has quickly been forgiven for making his name down the road at Preston, could make the difference in the survival fight for Owen Coyle’s team.
Nugent’s rare appearances for Portsmouth were often as a winger but he frequently rejected chances to return to the Championship on loan before earning a temporary move back to the North-West until the new year.
The boyhood Evertonian made his debut as a substitute in last week’s 4-0 defeat at Liverpool and, with the teams well matched at 1-1, he came off the bench to finish off a fine Burnley move with a firm near-post header before sealing victory with a curling left-foot shot after a fine turn.
Coyle, a former striker, can sympathise with Nugent’s plight. "I’ve got so much belief that David Nugent is a top-class player and that’s why we brought him to the club," he said.
"I speak to him on a daily basis on the training ground. Day by day he’s looking sharper and stronger, and his two finishes were top class.
"He has to use that now as a stepping stone. I’d love to have him on a permanent basis."
Burnley benefited from missed penalties in their 1-0 victories over Manchester United and Everton but finally managed a goal of their own from the spot thanks to Anton Ferdinand’s stupid lunge at Wade Elliott.
Not that he will ever discuss it, but Graham Alexander has failed to convert just five of his 72 penalties and thumped the ball down the centre of the goal and past his Scotland team-mate, Craig Gordon.
Darren Bent levelled after Andy Reid was allowed to dribble the ball across the area before feeding the striker, who stayed onside before guiding the ball past Brian Jensen.
As Sunderland looked to take control, Wade Elliott sent over a looping cross from the right to allow Nugent to plant a header in at the near post. Nugent then beat Gordon from the edge of the box after a sharp turn outfoxed three defenders to score Burnley’s third.
Bruce said: "Nugent gave them the spark and they scored two great goals, but if we’d repeated the first-half performance we would have won. I’m disappointed that we let them off the hook because they were there for the taking."