An own goal from defender Matty Plummer and strikes from Kieran Richardson, Paul McShane and Roy O’Donovan at the Northern Echo Darlington Arena got the Premier League side’s pre-season campaign off to a winning start on a night when they were rarely troubled.
A crowd of 5,871, almost 4,000 of them from Wearside, boosted the League Two side’s coffers as they continue to battle their way back from administration.
Bruce named a strong starting line-up despite the absence of injured keepers Craig Gordon and Marton Fulop and striker Kenwyne Jones, while new signings Fraizer Campbell and Paulo da Silva were not included in the squad.
Full-back Phil Bardsley sent a 30-yard piledriver just over keeper David Knight’s crossbar after 16 minutes, and Richardson, playing in a free role behind lone striker David Healy, whistled a left-foot effort just wide four minutes later.
Knight was relieved to see Andy Reid’s dipping 23rd-minute effort clear the bar, and equally grateful for Richardson’s bad miss two minutes later.
The visitors took the lead 10 minutes before the break when Reid capitalised on Ben Starosta’s slip to fire in a cross which Plummer unwittingly deflected into his own net.
It was 2-0 within four minutes when Knight spilled Reid’s cross and Richardson fired into the empty net.
Bruce made eight changes for the second half and one of the newcomers, Martyn Waghorn, twice went close, but it was fellow substitute McShane who extended the lead with a 59th-minute header.
The Republic of Ireland international limped off injured 11 minutes later and the Black Cats played out time with 10 men, substitute O’Donovan completing the scoring with five minutes to go.