STOKE CITY'S nine-game unbeaten start to the campaign came to a crashing halt at the Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon as Sunderland racked up their first win of the season in quite emphatic fashion.
Had it not been for some early misfortune though things may have turned out somewhat differently, as the hosts found themselves 2-0 up within ten minutes thanks largely to an uncharacteristic Asmir Begovic fumble and a hugely unfortunate Jonathan Woodgate own goal.
It wasn't to end there however, as Craig Gardner struck home a third before the half-time interval, though the former Birmingham man was thankful to the trailing leg of skipper Ryan Shawcross, as his effort took a wicked deflection off of the City skipper to deceive Begovic.
Steve Bruce's side fired home a fourth midway through the second half thanks to another former Birminghamstar, Sebastien Larsson, who superbly curled home a 25-yard free-kick into the bottom right hand corner, although Begovic again may feel he could have done better.
Tony Pulis made eight changes to his starting line-up ahead of the match, with only Shawcross, Robert Huth and Cameron Jerome retaining their places in the eleven from the side which picked up a creditable point in Kiev on Thursday evening.
Club record signing Peter Crouch was one of the changes as he returned in attack to partner midweek goalscoring hero Jerome, with Kenwyne Jones forced to settle for a place on the bench on his return to his former stomping ground.
Jermaine Pennant also missed out on a starting spot, as did Wilson Palacios, with the pair both having to be content with a spot amongst a strong looking substitute bench, as Rory Delap and Jonathan Walters were both preferred to start.
Things couldn't have been much worse for the luckless Potters as firstly Begovic uncharacteristically let a tame Titus Bramble strike squirm through his hands and into the back of the net just five minutes in, before Woodgate looped a Larsson centre up and over Begovic to double the hosts advantage six minutes later.
The impressive Stephane Sessegnon wreaked havoc amongst a Potters backline, which had only shipped three goals in their previous nine encounters, and he very nearly made it three 15 minutes in when he curled a 20-yard effort inches wide of the post.
At the other end, the visitors first real effort of note culminated in nothing more than a scare for the majority of the 33,000 supporters in attendance as Crouch leaped highest to glance a header goalwards, only for Simon Mignolet to comfortably gather down to his right.
Republic of Ireland ace Marc Wilson tested the young Belgian international midway through the half with a wonderful curling free-kick, whilst former Black Cat Dean Whitehead harmlessly skewed an effort high and wide of the upright after Wes Brown had failed to deal with an Etherington centre.
Those missed opportunities, along with further bad luck, were to be the downfall of Pulis' troops however, as Begovic's goal was breached for a third time before the break through the industrious Gardner, whose fortunate strike found the top corner of the net via Shawcross' knee.
Pulis opted against making any changes to his side at the start of the second period, instead keeping faith with his starting eleven. That decision looked to have been a good one as the Potters were fastest out of the blocks during the second period.
Sadly though, for all of their early pressure, there was no way through a rugged and stubborn Sunderland backline, which comprised of the experienced trio of Republic of Ireland skipper John O'Shea, Wes Brown and former Newcastle man Bramble.
On one of the occasions their backline was undone, the lively Crouch very nearly teed up Etherington six yards out with a superb header across goal, though it had just a little too much on it for the winger to head home into what would have been an empty net.
England man Crouch then failed to connect with a Wilson ball into the danger zone, when even the slightest of touches would have undoubtedly of reduced the deficit to two goals.
Begovic did well to palm away a Sessegnon effort soon after, though he wasn't quite able to repeat those heroics soon after as Larsson curled the ball up and over the wall and into the same corner of the net to which the Bosnian had placed himself for the free-kick.
That goal sealed the victory for the hosts, but Pulis still refused to admit defeat as he thrust on Jones, Pennant and Palacios late on in one last bid to salvage something from the game, though it was in fact Nicklas Bendtner who went closest to adding a fifth for the hosts but he mistimed a speculative flick from inside the six-yard box.