Steve Bruce is struggling. His Sunderland side are without a win so far this season and have already suffered losses against arch-enemies Newcastle and Championship Brighton during their miserable start to the campaign.
A month ago it all seemed so promising. Bruce was one of the most active Premier League managers over the summer, bringing 12 new faces into the Stadium of Light and waving goodbye to 14. This is a dramatic overhaul for any club but Sunderland had faded out badly at the end of the 2010/11 season and the flurry of activity was seen as a much needed breath of fresh air.
It is early days but the overhaul has not brought the improvement that many people expected.
Bruce was backed generously by Chairman Niall Quinn and owner Ellis Short in the transfer market, they have allowed him to reinvest the majority of Jordan Henderson and Darren Bent’s transfer fees back into signings but the manager has not utilised this healthy warchest effectively enough.
The most significant loss of all was Asamoah Gyan’s last minute departure to Al-Ain (a deal which surprised everyone) but Bruce claims that the player’s departure was an issue that had rumbled on for months. If that was the case why did he not find a replacement?
At the start of last season Sunderland’s front three were Bent, Gyan and Wellbeck, now it reads Bendtner, Wickham and Ji Dong-Won. This is a step down in anybody’s book and Sunderland’s owners must be wondering whether Bruce can still be trusted with the cheque-book.
Since the departure of Darren Bent, Sunderland’s form has slumped. Alarmingly, Bruce has not yet managed to halt this slide. More worrying still is that Bruce is now yet again rebuilding and waiting for players to gel. He has a squad packed full of new faces as he begins his third season in charge.
The demands at Sunderland are realistic and simple. People want to see their side improve year on year (something that Bruce delivered successfully in the past two seasons) and challenge in every match. Trophies are not an immediate concern. From January, Bruce has seemed unable to meet these modest expectations and this is likely to make Niall Quinn and Ellis Short very nervous indeed.
Already a front runner in the dreaded Premier League sack race, Bruce seriously needs to get a winning mentality back into his side. If the summer overhaul was supposed to do it he now needs to try something else, and fast.
Is there enough quality in the side to improve on last season? Can Bruce be trusted with signings?
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