The last home game at the Stadium of Light saw a reprieve of sorts for Steve Bruce. With pressure mounting, a resounding 4-0 victory over the hitherto impressive Stoke City provided some optimism after a thoroughly disappointing beginning to the campaign.
Unfortunately for Mackems fans, on the sides next outing, many of the old flaws manifested themselves in what was a worryingly tepid defeat to Norwich at Carrow Road last Monday night.
A symptom of the campaign thus far has been Bruce’ willingness to scold his players publicly after a poor performance. Clearly the manager is beginning to feel the strain, but Bruce was somewhat justified in his anger after the game. Simply put-The Black Cats were not good enough.
Most worryingly for the manager, the defeat on Monday seemed to owe more to a lack of character and belief than anything else. While Sunderland enjoyed their largest share of possession than in any other game this season 57.3%, they also misplaced 138 of 570 attempted passes. Moreover Bruce outlined the careless surrendering of possession in dangerous areas as the chief reason behind his sides’ demise. They also had more chances (11-8) than the hosts, but significantly lacked the impetus or confidence to make it pay.
The hosts displayed all the characteristics that Sunderland have been missing thus far. Belief, desire and most importantly execution were in ample supply at Carrow Road on Monday, but sadly for Sunderland fans, it was the team in yellow doing the showcasing. Indeed Bruce had spoken of the difficulties that his team would face against a newly promoted side; the failure to adequately quell the expected onslaught was just the latest in a growing list of indictments against the manager.
It is not easy to see a cure for the many ills seemingly affecting the team at the moment. In central midfield there appears to be a distinct lack of craft and imagination. The mish-mash of players Bruce has deployed in that position are clearly lacking in confidence, and thus the side appears to lack any kind of pulse from which attacks can flow. It is difficult to see which of Bruce’ midfielders can truly change the pattern. It appears the best that can be hoped for at present is that the team can consolidate and grind out results with the aid of some hard work and possibly a lot of luck.
The visit of West Brom this weekend affords the Wearsiders an opportunity to gain a valuable three points. Roy Hodgson’s side have themselves endured a hapless start to the campaign and will be hoping they can pick up at least a point on Saturday.
The two teams have remarkably similar stats for the season. West Brom have created 56 chances to Sunderland’s 60 with the Black Cats holding a slightly superior chance conversion rate of 10% to West Brom’s 7%. Bruce will be hoping it is those types of slim margins that can secure victory for his side on Saturday, and on paper it is certainly a game the home side should be expecting to win.
Alas, the performances this season (and last) have shown that games are not won on paper, and the reality is that Bruce needs to find a cohesive formula for success urgently if he is to arrest his teams alarming decline.
Fifteen points from the last 19 games tells its own story. If that figure were doubled, it would equate to 30 points over the course of an entire league campaign. That is relegation form in anyone’s language. The notion that Sunderland are in real trouble is gaining traction in many quarters, none more so than on fans forums, where supporters are almost unanimous in calls for the managers dismissal.
Bruce alluded to the pressure he was feeling when he spoke of “mass hysteria” after the victory over Stoke. It was hardly the wisest of statements and the manager should be careful not to further marginalise himself from the clubs’ support. Bruce must realise that recent events have done nothing to placate the disaffected.
Sunderland fans may well vote with their feet on Saturday, and so the attendance on Saturday may well prove decisive in deciding the managers’ fate. Victory may ensure that some of those empty seats will be filled for the next home game. Time is of the essence now, and one gets the impression that Bruce knows it.