AFTER the nonsense elsewhere of players not wanting to do what their managers demand, threatening to leave if competition is brought in and spitting their dummies out when rightly criticised in the national press, Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy must be proud as punch to have someone of the moral fibre of Marcus Stewart in his ranks.

Hauled off after a lacklustre performance part way through the Black Cats' last away day, the 1-0 defeat at Reading, the 31-year-old striker reacted to the subsequent chastisement from his blunt Yorkshire gaffer in exactly the right way - scoring a hat-trick in his next appearance.

Stewart's treble and a further goal from strike partner Stephen Elliott demolished the hapless Gills and brought Sunderland their first joy on their travels this season.

And while every man Jack performed admirably at the Priestfield Stadium, it was Stewart who, after his previous admonishment, was this time singled out for praise by the straight-talking McCarthy.

"I took him off at Reading; he wasn't happy (but) I had my reasons for it," he said. "I said to him on Friday he was terrific in training.

"Stewy was excellent and I said to him I thought he was. I think if you have a beef with the manager or the coach, play well, that's all you can do. And he answered it emphatically didn't he?

"I would like that reaction from every player I take off.

"He came and sat on the bench after I had taken him off; had a go. I had a chat with him when I came back after we had had a break and he has made his point in the right manner."

Stewart's strikes took his season's tally to six but that was just one facet of his game on Saturday, as McCarthy rightfully acknowledged.

"Not only was it his goals today, it was his whole performance," he said.

"I thought he ran their back four in places they didn't want to go. He worked hard.

"He had a great tackle after about three or four minutes in front of us - the kind that epitomised his performance."

It was by no means a one-man show that lifted Sunderland to the heady heights of 15th in the Championship with eight points from seven games.

Julio Arca and George McCartney more than played their part in a side that featured four changes, Stephen Wright for Darren Williams, Stephen Caldwell for Neill Collins, Carl Robinson for John Oster and Stephen Elliott for possible long-term absentee Kevin Kyle up front.

And it was Arca and McCartney who got Sunderland's show on the road when, after four minutes, the former released the latter down the left and McCartney's low cross was turned in by Stewart after Elliott's initial shot was instinctively blocked by Steve Banks in the Gillingham goal.

And after Dean Whitehead's volley from Stewart's cute lofted chip had whizzed wide of the mark, Sunderland doubled the lead in the 17th minute via the same route as the first.

Arca fed McCartney who sent in a waist high cross which Elliott met with a diving header to give Banks no chance.

Sunderland fans could not believe it when Stewart, via another McCartney centre, made it game over with less than half of the first period gone just three minutes later.

His first attempt with his left-foot from six yards was blocked by fellow forward Elliott but when the ball came back to him he made no mistake with his right.

Darren Byfield, who Sunderland let go to join the Kent side instead, could only stand, watch and wonder what might have been.

After Arca's mazy run into the box was brought to an end when he comically fell over his own feet, the home fans had seen enough and demanded their side wake up.

It would have taken half a ton of gelignite and the sight of waking up next to Bella Emberg to achieve that, as they went on to prove.

If Sunderland had expected Gillingham to come out with their ears burning from a half-time grilling they needn't have worried as matters continued pretty much as they had in the first.

Even Byfield changing his footwear on the touchline five minutes in made no difference. They may as well have been carpet slippers; they certainly weren't shooting boots!

Stewart was hungry for a third and only Banks' low dive prevented him on 58 minutes after Elliott had manfully won a 50-50 challenge midway into opposition territory.

A minute later the keeper was having to pull out all the stops again when Arca shot from the right.

Gillingham were afforded the chance to at least register a strike on goal shortly after when Sunderland were penalised for handball. However, an over-anxious Danny Spiller fired wide.

More chances came and went for the Cats but Stewart finally got the reward for his endeavours on 68 minutes when he punished Leon Johnson's woefully inadequate backpass.

Out-manoeuvring Banks, he slipped the ball over the line from a tight angle on the right before adding it to his collection when the referee finally called an end to Gillingham's torture.

For McCarthy it was a nice way to answer the critics who have suggested his tenure may be on the line should the slide not have been arrested.

"We were getting bashed a bit," he said.

"Physically, verbally and mentally because we have started off badly compared to our standards last season in terms of results.

"But that was an emphatic performance and was very pleasing.

"I hope it proves what I have been saying in that we have good players and we are better than our points tally and league position say.

"But we all say that when we are at the bottom of the league, don't we?"

Result: Gillingham 0 Sunderland 4.

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