Bad luck or bad management – where is it going wrong at Sunderland?

An over reliance on Darren Bent? Unrealistic expectations? Key players not performing? These are questions that will be going through the mind of Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, and the club’s strong supporters. Speaking of fans, they have every right to be more worried than usual, especially when they read about supposed training ground bust ups.

Bruce, speaking in The Guardian, said: “I fell out with a few players and rightly so, I might have had a bust-up with a few.” Saying that publicly is not something managers often do, but the fact that he has done might suggest a split with some of the squad and the manager. When asked if the player in question was Kieran Richardson, Bruce said no, but then replied “it might have been someone else.”

Bruce is from the north-east himself, and the famous footballers that have come from there are generally the type of characters who have authority, and manage or play the game with an abundance of passion. There comes a time when you have to call for a decision and things seem to have become futile at the Stadium of Light, you get a sense that there is a lack of direction.

Football changes daily but the start to the season Sunderland had was excellent. Perhaps that gave the players and the management false expectations. It does not help the cause when key players are not performing, step forward Steed Malbranque, Andy Reid and Kenwyne Jones. The situation with the latter player is where Bruce’s management is called into question. In December, last year, Bruce said that Jones was “frustrating” to work with. Jones could have easily taken that as a signal of Sunderland looking to get rid of him.

In modern day style of management, where there is so much player power, it went against the rulebook, so to speak. When Bruce said of Jones “I’m having trouble getting through to Kenwyne, I don’t know if he believes anything I tell him,” then that can be translated in two ways. Firstly, has Bruce lost the trust and faith of someone who was supposed to be a leading player? Secondly, is he using this as a way of diverting the pressure he is under?

Managers should be telling this to players behind closed doors and working with them to get their game back on track again. The deteriorating performances of Jones will lead to questions about why Bruce is still playing him. It is like a vicious cycle, Bruce started off by saying what he said to probably motivate Jones, but it might come back to haunt him in the end.

Despite being a relatively young manager, Bruce has been through his fair share of clubs and has been known to move on to another club given half a chance as he did in moving from Wigan to Sunderland. He may owe this club more of his time, and prove he can withstand what is his biggest management test so far.