The stats don’t make good reading for Sunderland fans at the moment. Their team is currently without a Premier League win in 14 games and has produced just two goals in the last six matches. Something is wrong on Wearside and if it doesn’t change soon the Black Cats could be heading back to The Championship. After spending significant amounts of money over the past few seasons this outcome would be an absolute disaster for the club, and after a promising start to this campaign what has happened and can things turn around?
Last summer expectations were raised by the arrival of Steve Bruce and the war chest he was given by the Sunderland board. Close to £30 million was spent and talk of qualification for Europe or at least a top half finish, was abound. This looked like it would be achievable back in November after beating Arsenal at the Stadium of Light. But that proved to be the Black Cats’ last victorious outing. Despite this horrendous run, Bruce does not seem too worried and feels the club needs to stick with him for long term stability.
“This club has never had a sustained period of stability and that’s what it needs. That was the biggest challenge I had when I came in. But I’ve had no pressure from within the club, only support, that’s for sure. Pressure gets piled on from outside, but I really don’t feel that, not ever. I take the job on and the one thing that drives me is the fear of failure. I don’t want to fail. I’ve waited for a long time to come to a club like this and I’ll do my absolute best to make a success of it. It’s not easy. And I’ve spoken to many managers who’ve been here before me and they’ve said the same: ‘It ain’t easy to live with the expectation.’ We’ve got to get better at it and put that right, but it can only take time.”
I would agree that Sunderland need some stability. They have for too long now, like a lot of clubs, chopped and changed managers whenever things have started going wrong. But that is not to say that it will be anything other than a failure if Bruce was to lead his side to relegation. With the amount of money spent last year, it could really hurt the club if it were to happen. Their next three fixtures are all at home against Bolton, Birmingham and Man City. With their poor away form, things will start getting very edgy at the Stadium of Light if at least one win is not taken from these matches.
The worrying thing is that the goals seem to have dried up in recent weeks. This is always likely to happen at some point when a team is so heavily reliant on one man to find the net. Darren Bent cannot be expected to work miracles up front on his own and he needs help from his team mates. Kenwyne Jones is not playing well at all and Frazier Campbell has not had the kind of impact wished for. But it is the midfield that really needs to improve if Sunderland are to escape a late scare and pull away from the bottom three. Andy Reid is still their main creative spark and the onus will be on him to provide the opportunities for Bent. Much was expected of Lorik Cana this season but the Albanian has been inconsistent and after making a decent impact earlier on in the year he has faded badly. Lee Cattermole has struggled for fitness and Kieran Richardson is, in my view, very talented but work shy and unable to dig in and produce when it matters.
If the poor run of form continues on Wearside then the knives will most likely be out for Bruce. In a way that will be understandable for he spent large sums trying to put his stamp on this side. But the players need to take a look at themselves too because the talent in the squad should be able to pull away from danger. They now need to show that on the pitch otherwise the Sunderland supporters will be in for a nervous end to their season. And that will be viewed as anything but progress.