14 games without a Premiership win would be worrying for several sides, but when you’ve spent the best part of £50 million to improve the team, 4 months without a win is disastrous. When Bruce took the reigns at the Stadium of Light in the summer, the club had survived a dreadful season which had seen Roy Keane walk out half way through and they limped to the final day staying up.
If you were brutally honest, Sunderland stayed up due to the ineptness of the other clubs at the foot of the table. For the amount of transfer outlay the Black Cats have spent, around £130 million in 3 years, two successive relegation battles are simply not good enough. For all the criticism that came last season, Bruce’s tenure started so well and Sunderland were comfortably placed in the top ten.
Yet since November, it’s all gone horribly wrong and Sunderland have slid down the table once more. Free scoring twitter addict Darren Bent has suddenly found goals hard to come by in open play and the side seems gripped with a fear of losing. As daft as it sounds, it’s a common occurrence for sides struggling to win to try and close up defensively, which in turn invites teams to attack them. The fear of having a go back leads to a footballing paralysis, the team simply forgets how to win.
Bruce has certainly got his work out at probably his biggest managerial role so far. Up until November, Bruce could honestly be pleased with the sides progress and they seemed to playing a good, high tempo attacking game. Beating Arsenal had seen them continue to re-affirm their ambitions of an outside chance of European football, but suddenly the confidence evaporated.
Bruce was in bullish mood earlier this week, coming out and defending his signings and perhaps he would point to Kenwyn Jones having his head turned by Liverpool’s underhand transfer methods in January, and the loss of Lee Catermole has certainly shown just how important he is to the Sunderland side. Yet, two signings do not make a team and several players simply have not performed not just for Bruce but over the last couple of years.
What has happened to Keiran Richardson? He seems to have completely lost his way again after picking up last season, so much potential and promise seems to be shackled with a fear to work hard and show the talent he has. Michael Turner has struggled to justify his £10 million transfer fee (as quoted in the court documents in the Hull City v Paul Duffen case). Anton Ferdinand has looked like he’d walk back to London if he could get a transfer, but he at least made me smile with this peach of a quote this week.
“It would be naive to say that we’re not in a relegation scrap. The league is so tight that a couple of results either way can make a massive amount of difference. No one is mentioning the R word around here, and we don’t want to start having to talk about it.” Priceless.
Of course, the bottom of the table is so tight at the moment, anyone from West Ham, in 13th could go down right now. 4 points separate 7 clubs and Sunderland’s goal difference is a real bonus despite the situation they are in. Unfortunately, they’ve a dreadful run of fixtures after Tuesday’s clash with Bolton. Only one of the next 6 games is against a side in the bottom half of the table and that could be crucial. It is not a run of games to take such a dreadful run of form into.
Yet, it could be what they need. Gaining three points in any of those matches would be a massive boost for Bruce and the club, giving them a much needed shot in the arm. No-one wants to say they’re too good to go down, we’ve seen it from sides such as West Ham United and Newcastle before. Now Bruce has to prove his reputation and really earn his stripes at the Stadium of Light.