It's black & white: Bruce has to win!

It's black & white: Bruce has to win!

Steve Bruce

Last weekends’ debacle against rivals Newcastle has seen the tide of public opinion drastically sway against the Sunderland manager. It says something about the importance of this fixture in the North East, that Steve Bruce will consider himself under scrutiny after only two games of the new campaign.

However it would be churlish to claim that this was a knee jerk reaction from fans after one disappointing outing. Moreover it was further evidence of Bruce’ inability to raise the performance of his team when the stakes are at their highest. There were familiar failings from last season which appear not to have been rectified.

To say Saturday’s defeat undid the positive work at Anfield the previous week would be an understatement. To all intents and purposes this was a game which Sunderland should have been favourites to win. Not only did the team fail to do so, but also seemed strikingly devoid of a cohesive strategy with which to make it happen. The result was a scrappy performance which degenerated as the minutes wore on, and once the team went one down, capitulated altogether.

The midfield was desperately flat against what could best be described as a modest Newcastle outfit. In fact, if we compare the midfield quartet of Larsson, Elomohamady, Cattermole and Colback against their performance at Anfield, we begin to get a glaring look at how bad the team were at the weekend and what exactly went wrong.

At Anfield, that midfield four made a total of 99/118 successful passes against the hosts. In the derby game against Newcatle (at home) they attempted 100 and were successful with just 67. That is, the occasions in which they found a team mate was down by almost a third.

Of course there are caveats to this. Liverpool, enjoying home advantage were less likely to press Bruce’ team, but nonetheless the side showed an ability and willingness to use the ball on the opening day.

Indeed a derby game is always going to be more frenetic, but surely at this level of the game fans could expect more from their side. 67 completed passes for a midfield with designs on a top half finish is just not good enough. On that note, Ahmed Elmohamdy’s 8/18 successful passes on such an important afternoon for the club suggest this is an arena beyond his ability.

Last week I spoke of the potential value that Wes Brown’s experience could have on the club. With that in mind, it remains impossible to understand why the manager has eschewed the opportunity to strip Lee Cattermole of the captaincy. With Brown and John O’ Shea in the squad, it makes no sense to persist with the patently irresponsible and incapable Cattermole. His display on Saturday was little more than an ill disciplined tribute to 1970’s “hard men”, one which infected the rest of his teammates, and culminated with the dismissal of Phil Bardsley.

The final point from Saturday’s game was the teams’ level of accuracy from crosses. Admittedly having looked at the midfield stats it can be assumed that Sunderland’s wide men were hardly receiving quality possession from which to deliver telling crosses. That said, a total of 6/30 successful crosses tells its own tale.

Anyone who saw the game on Saturday could see that Bruce desperately needs a focal point in attack. In the short term it seems he has not learned the lesson. At the time of writing, the manager is under increased pressure having watched his side dumped out the Carling Cup by Brighton on Tuesday night. Dominic Fifield’s match report in The Guardian captured how many fans are feeling.

“…..the sight of the manager flapping in frustration as crosses zipped untouched along the six-yard box prompted little sympathy, with the likes of Asamoah Gyan and Connor Wickham starting on the bench.”

So it seems Bruce is already in the mire, even at this early stage of the season. How deep into it he descends depends largely on how quickly he can redress glaring problems. That he has hitherto failed to do so is the reason the fans are losing patience.

Bruce could scarcely have imagined this weekend’s trip to Swansea would carry such importance for his future. He will take solace from the rational support he receives from his chairman. Alas, a chairman can only be as patient with a manager as the supporters allow him to be. Victory on Saturday will placate the restless natives. Failure to do so and the clock will truly be ticking on Bruce’ Sunderland career.

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