For Sunderland, everything is in place. Looking around the league and seeing financial struggles, manager/chairman tensions, player revolts and alike amongst their opponents, the view from the Stadium of Light can be considered somewhat rose-tinted.
In Ellis Short they have financial stability and backing. In Niall Quinn, there is a chairman who genuinely cares for the club and has its interests above his own. And in Steve Bruce they have a good manager, who is savvy in the transfer market, has the Sir Alex Ferguson breeding and appears to have excellent man management skills.
It’s a big city, with a fan base to match and an impessive stadium. In the three years since they were last promoted to the Premier League they have averaged over 40,000 in attendances (only the big four – if they still exist – Newcastle and Man City have averaged more). In those seasons, they have finished 15th, 16th and 13th respectively, and now that Bruce has got a core of his own players, it surely time that a top half finish beckons. Anything less than equalling last season’s finish is unacceptable.
The problem for Sunderland is that the club is amongst a number of clubs in a similar position; Birmingham, Fulham, Stoke and Blackburn can all lay claim to outdoing each other this season. Of those clubs listed however, Sunderland arguably have the greatest facilities and infrastructure to be in a position to push on.
Bruce has been busy this summer to strengthen the squad. Titus Bramble, Marcos Angeleri, Simone Mignolet, Ahmed Al Muhammadi (who has been a personal highlight thus far), Danny Welbeck and Nedum Onuoha have all arrived, not to mention the last day capture of Asamoah Gyan – big things will be expected. But the sales of Lorik Cana and Kenwyne Jones have surprised; both important players last season have moved on, the latter to a rival.
When a club comes up from the Championship, the only aim is survival. If that is achieved then the aim for next year is, nine times out of ten, survival. It is only after those two years of establishment and consolidation that a club really can start building. This is that time for Sunderland. After Roy Keane and Ricky Sbragia, Bruce appears as though he is in for the long haul. Having spent over £25m last summer, and invested again this time around (although the sale of Jones reaped a healthy £9m), Bruce can have no excuses about a lack of support or backing.
Improvement, even if it may be bit by bit, will always go down well with supporters; as long as you are heading in the direction you can be forgiven for how long it may take to get there. The Stadium of Light has become a difficult place for clubs to come to, and few relish it, if any at all. The away form however, is a more pressing concern. Only two wins on the road last term is a statistic that simply has to be improved upon. The only away game so far has been at West Brom, where for large parts of the game they were dominated: these are the fixtures where a club the size of Sunderland should at least be taking home a point.
Steve Bruce must deliver success; the grey area surrounds the constitution of what that success is. A top half finish (and dare I say a small cup run) would keep everyone associated with club in good spirits. From the outside, the Bruce/Short/Quinn axis really looks as though it works, and eventually expectations will rise. There is a solid foundation, and the rate of the build should now be on the up.
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