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New boss must make Sunderland more ruthless

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 23:26 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Thirteen games into last season, Sunderland were sixth in the Premier League table and riding high following a 3-0 victory at Chelsea.

After the same number of games this term, it is a starkly different picture. The Black Cats are fifth from bottom following their injury-time defeat by fellow strugglers Wigan last Saturday, and it was enough for manager Steve Bruce to be sacked after what owner Ellis Short called a "trying start to the season".

Results were not good enough, Short said. But the strange thing is that when you analyse many of Sunderland's performances this season, they have not been playing that badly.

They have scored the same number of goals in the same period, despite losing strikers Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan, and the on-loan Danny Welbeck in the last year.

They have improved their shots on target, their pass completion and their crossing, while they have conceded only two more goals than at the same stage last season. In fact, only the top seven teams have a better goal difference than them.

Sunderland's overall performances have not differed much from last season


Where it really mattered, though, Sunderland fell short. In the top flight, the Black Cats have won only three times in front of their home fans in 2011, and a poor injury record and a vast influx of new players taking their time to bed in have not helped either.

Former Sunderland striker Marco Gabbiadini, who is a co-presenter on BBC Radio Newcastle, believes the team has been lacking the same kind of approach that saw them tear Chelsea to shreds at Stamford Bridge last November.

"That's the trouble with us - not enough wins," said Gabbiadini, speaking before Bruce was sacked. "Our goal difference is excellent compared to everybody else around us, and we seem to be doing very well in games up to a certain point, but we just can't seem to kill games off.

"If you look at the squad we haven't got enough players with that killer instinct. As an ex-striker I was someone who probably gave the ball away too much at times, because I was always trying to take the man on and trying to turn into dangerous areas, but Sunderland have not got enough players who do that."

Sunderland were almost spoilt for strikers last season, whereas this term they have had to rely on Connor Wickham, Stephane Sessegnon and the on-loan Nicklas Bendtner.

Decent acquisitions all of them, but Bendtner is not known for scoring as regularly as Bent, Wickham is making his debut season in the Premier League and Sessegnon is more of a forward who works between the opposition midfield and defence.

Bruce was not helped by a recent injury to Wickham suffered against Manchester United, just as it looked like all three were beginning to gel. Yet Gabbiadini, who scored 74 goals in 157 appearances for the Black Cats, believes that Bendtner needs to be more involved in areas where he can make a difference.

"I know there are people who said that Bent didn't score that many goals last year and the team have scored more goals from different positions, but he was a very good target man," added Gabbiadini.


"People used to say differently, but he makes very intelligent runs and holds the ball up and brings others into play. He also plays the 18-yard box as well, which sounds obvious, but look at Bendtner in comparison.

"He's a great footballer, but I watched him on Saturday and he spent most of his time outside the width of the 18-yard box. As a striker I was always taught that when things aren't going too well for you, just play the width of the penalty box and even narrower sometimes if you want to get in on the action.

"He's an intelligent footballer, and he's actually done very well for us, but at the moment and with our injury record over the last two seasons, we haven't got anyone to support him."

That may be helped by the return of Fraizer Campbell, who is due to return from a knee injury in the coming weeks. And before the crushing defeat by Wigan, where Wes Brown's mistake helped Franco di Santo to score an injury-time winner, Sunderland were actually four games unbeaten at home.

How much spending power the incoming manager will have is unclear - Bruce made 10 signings in the summer.

With the likes of Brown, John O'Shea, Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner among them, there is some undoubted quality to enable the club to return to winning ways. But Gabbiadini believes fans should be realistic about the club's ambitions.

"Sunderland finished 10th last season, but that doesn't mean you are going to be 10th every season," he said. "This is the first time we've been in top flight for five consecutive seasons since the 1980s.

"Until we can become a club who can move onto the next level we have to take it on the chin. I'm not saying we have to be fighting relegation every year but we have had two seasons where it's been quite comfortable.

"We've signed a lot of players who are a decent age and hopefully will all be at the club for a few years so, if we can get it right, it looks promising for the future."

If the new manager can mould Bruce's buys into a more ruthless outfit, then Sunderland can look forward to re-establishing themselves where most fans think a club of their size belongs.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I'm sorry but I can't take this blog seriously when they say Bendtner 'is a good footballer.'

    Chelsea have been below par since that loss to Sunderland as well. A defining match for both teams as it seems neither have recovered in over 12 months since it happened.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am surprised Short sacked Bruce, he hasn't done a bad job since he's been in charge although losing Bent and bringing in Bendtner is laughable, he's spent most of his Arsenal career so far warming the bench and rightly so!

    I must admit though I thought Kean would be the first to go, how he's still in a job, never mind on a better contract than at the start is just beyond me!

  • Comment number 3.

    I thought he would have been given at least a few more weeks to turn it around. Some people think that Bruce didn't display any loyality at some of the clubs he was at so what goes around come around. 3 or 4 more games looking at the fixtures they have coming up and if they were in the same position then sack him.

  • Comment number 4.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 5.

    "Results were not good enough, Short said. But the strange thing is that when you analyse many of Sunderland's performances this season, they have not been playing that badly."

    But again, results were not good enough. No extra points for playing style.

  • Comment number 6.

    @ 4

    "Sunderland have the stadium, money and fan base to be a top 6 side."

    Really? I think all of those things are pretty debatable.

    "To be sitting 15 points behind rivals Newcastle is just not good enough for thge supporters. "

    This is the biggest problem for Sunderland and subsequently Bruce. Newcastle’s unprecedented start to the season has cranked up the pressure massively as it can be argued both Newcastle and Sunderland’s base goal after to survival will be to finish above one another and right now one is outshining the other to quite a degree.

    "If a good manager is brought in I can see Sunderland still ending up top 6 this season."

    I think that's a tad unrealistic, who are you propising Sunderland will dislodge, Arsenal? Chelsea? City? Liverpool? Spurs? United?

  • Comment number 7.

    Disappointed in the season so far and in the reaction to Bruce from the crowd, but have to admit that something is missing and a change is probably for the best. Being against Bruce because of where he's from and who he supported is as sad as comparing how we're doing based purely on how Newcastle are doing. If they were bottom would our season so far suddenly be good?

    Can't agree with comments on Bendtner; he's a quality player. Might only be a squad member somewhere like Arsenal, but he's definitely good enough for the Premier League overall. We aren't a Champions League club.

    Hopefully whoever we get can get that bit extra out of the players we have, who undoubtedly have quality, and also add a goal scorer to the mix. Fraizer Campbell coming back will help, but we need at least one more who can finish. Losing Bent did remove a lot of goals from the squad, but whatever else he might have added Gyan was not a goal scorer. Wellbeck was never our player, so replacing him must always have been in the plan, especially after he made the England squad. He just turned out be a far better player than envisaged as he developed over last season and therefore more critical and difficult to replace.

    I agree with the comment that we need to be realistic about where we are in the grand scheme of things. However, the danger is that by sticking with Bruce for too long we make the mistake we made by giving Peter Reid one season too many. We were a bit fortunate to end up tenth last season and given that the start of this season mirrors the end of last season I agree with the decision to make a change. We've had almost a year of failure, even with significant changes to the squad, which isn't good enough.

  • Comment number 8.

    Bruce has made one extremely large mistake. He's lost faith in his own system, panicked and changed it. To make 10 signings in the off-season for a non promoted team is incredible. This many changes doesn't lead to better performances 8 out of 10.

    The other problem is the quality. Out went Bent, Gyan, Henderson and in came Bendtner, Gardner and Larsson. In my eyes, his signings are a regression, not an improvement to the team, and this is where he has failed.

    Instead of identifying the weak links and improving them, he has bought in almost a whole new team. If he had made just 4 quality signings, instead of 10 average ones, then Sunderland would not be where they are now. It always amazes me when managers do this. Which companies have a complete overhaul of staff and do better? They make the key areas better, while keeping the best performers around.

  • Comment number 9.

    Only one man for the Sunderland job.
    Lee Clark at Huddersfield.

  • Comment number 10.

    Surely replacing Bruce with Hughes is like-for-like. One failed United old boy for another. Two managers living on reputation. For Sunderland getting MON or Paul Lambert would be far more shrewd.

  • Comment number 11.

    #8: It's not that simple, though, is it? Signing 10 average players for an average club is straightforward, but signing even one quality player at an average club is a challenge. Look at Spurs, we only got our top-quality players because either we picked them up before they were famous or, in the case of van der Vaart, because we'd just made the Champions' League. If Sunderland get there, then they can start bringing in the real quality.

    #9: Great shout, Lee Clark looks like he'll be hot property in a couple of years, and as a Sunderland old boy I'm sure the fans will be very forgiving if it takes him a while to get things sorted. Now that you mention him, I'm surprised more people haven't said the same.

  • Comment number 12.

    As with all Premier League supporters many have unrealistic expectations.
    3 clubs have massive financial backing. Man City, Man Utd, and Chelsea.
    Then there is the next group including Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, also spending a lot.
    So on that basis Sunderland will only ever be somewhere around Mid Table, sorry but there it is!

  • Comment number 13.

    #9 & #11: Lee Clark is a hardened Geordie. He was kicked oout of Sunderland as a player because of his support for Newcastle. After Steve Bruce i can't see Sunderland wanting to appoint another Geordie as manager and I can't see Lee Clark wanting to go there.

  • Comment number 14.

    Yes, i too agree with Lee Clark. Seems to be doing a decent job and will (hopefully) provide some stability. If Sunderland is really ambitious they should go for Martin O Neill or even try Ancelloti (why not?)

    Also i think, what is really hurting the fans is that Newcastle is playing so well, even though they are back just one year, whereas inspite of the great consistency of being in the league, Sunderland is laggin that far behind.. Maybe that has cost Brucie his job. Also there were so many outs and ins especially the buying of United pensioners for the price at which they were bought.. just might not have seemed right to the fans.. (did it?)

    Anyway, whoever takes over, has to first ensure stability and ensure they have strong finish to the season.

  • Comment number 15.

    #9 Lee Clark?? Great manager, but black and white through and through!

  • Comment number 16.

    Those suggesting Clark, you all do realise why he left Sunderland? He was pictured wearing a t-shirt which said 'Sad Mackem B***ds' on the same day Newcastle were playing in the FA Cup final. Something tells me he wouldn't be welcomed back, although football fans have very short memories I suppose.

  • Comment number 17.

    Alistair - the 'crisis' at Sunderland is perhaps as much to do with Newcastle's success as it is to do with the Black Cats own results? Also Steve Bruce's 'Georgie' connections makes him the perfect 'sacrificial lamb'?

    Bruce had no 'back up plan' for when Bent left and he has been struggling ever since, losing Gyan and Henderson was also unfortunate and importing so many new players all at once, did not help. On paper Sunderland do have enough 'talented players' to be doing better, whether Mark Hughes or Martin O'Neil can 'wave the magic wand' for Christmas, remains to be seen.

  • Comment number 18.

    Interesting stats they have the same number of goals and only conceeded 2 more goals than at the same point last season but they have picked up 8 points fewer than before. Those two goals could have cost 4 points (2 one-nil wins become 2 one-all draws) but there are still another 4 points to find. I think then that would mean that the difference between this season and last season is that they have concentrated their goals in fewer games ie instead of 1-0 wins they picked up 2-0 wins and so when they conceed goals in other games it costs them.

    I think the sale of strikers has cost them in terms of regularity of goals - better to have a striker who will score a few less goals in total but spreads them around than someone who picks up a lot of total goals but only in a few games (more chances of points from the goals)

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    I cant believe this... the article says

    "trouble with us not enough wins"

    Hows that for insight from Gabbiadini. Gorden Bennet a new low

  • Comment number 21.

    It is Simple the players Steve Bruce has brought in are not good enough.

    He buys Man U rejects: Brown, OShea, Campbell, Bardsley Richardson (Tried to get Gibson) His buys are from teams got relegated: Gardiner, Larson, Vaughan they played ok but must be a reason they got relegated... The Man U players are terrible players mostly, who hid behind a fantastic man u bunch (I feel dirty for saying that)

    All this add ups to poor/average team that cannot cope against most of the teams who are better.

    If it wasnt for helping Man U get some extra money id feel sorry for him....

    To all Sunderland fans, I do hope you guys stay up though as your a good football club with some top fans. Keep the faith.

  • Comment number 22.

    19. catswestlondon wrote:
    "Bruce has been forced out by racists simply because he comes from Newcastle"

    Bruce had great support for a couple of years, but 3 home wins in 2011 would test anyone's patience. Stupid comments about racism resulting in his sacking are just laughable and utterly uninformed.

  • Comment number 23.

    21.At 13:09 1st Dec 2011, SuperCaspersavestheday wrote:
    It is Simple the players Steve Bruce has brought in are not good enough.

    He buys Man U rejects: Brown, OShea, Campbell, Bardsley Richardson (Tried to get Gibson) His buys are from teams got relegated: Gardiner, Larson, Vaughan they played ok but must be a reason they got relegated.
    The Man U players are terrible players mostly, who hid behind a fantastic man u bunch ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Utter rubbish.

    Apart from the last game, Wes Brown in particular has been excellent this season for Sunderland, and they've actually managed to keep him fit! If you look at their defensive record this season, it's decent, so I don't know why Brown, O'Shea and Bardsley are being blamed- their problems are quite obviously putting the ball in the net at the other end where two talented strikers (Bent and Gyan) effectively walked out on them.

  • Comment number 24.

    There's something seriously wrong at Sunderland. The Mackem desk at work normally do nothing but talk about Newcastle. Before the season started it was Sunderland have a team of young lions, Newcastle has nobody. Since the season began, they've been talking about their own side. Even when they were yo-yoing in and out of the Premier League, they never did that.
    Any prospective manager has to consider his biggest challenge will be to keep Sunderland up this season.

  • Comment number 25.

    Sunderland are a big club. They have a decent ground, good support and have spent enough money to expect mid table at worst. Look at what everton spent this summer and they wouldn't expect the results that Sunderland have been getting because they have a top class manager.

    Any manager who is given the backing to bring in ten players like Steve Bruce was and converts that into relegation form is a dead man walking, especially with more accomplished managers like Hughes, o'neill and even Sven looking for work. I bet that all three of those men would get more out of this Sunderland team than Bruce has been able to without a big January outlay.

  • Comment number 26.

    I was surprised to see Bruce sacked so early in the season, I was sure it would be another Steve who would be the first to lose his job this season.

    However, if they were thinking of making a change, now is a good time to do it. It will allow a new manager a few weeks to get to know his squad and assess where he needs to change things in time for the January transfer window.

    If I was the owner, I'd look no futher than MON for the job. He has a track record of turning teams around very quickly and with Sunderland's resources I could see him achieving a top ten finish this season and then kicking on a bit more next season. How far he could take them will depend on how much Sunderland are able or willing to invest.

  • Comment number 27.

    Vox P

    Brown has cost Sunderland points in Wigan, Man U game with big mistakes that is 2 out of 12 games he has played and I get a feeling maybe one more, but that might be wrong. Thats quite a high rate of mistakes for a good player.

    The others are in his first team if fully fit and clearly not helping if they are were they are. This blog states they have scored the same amount so your point about losing Bent and Gyan them stats wise is not correct. I guess three is a subconcious effect but that shouldnt be an excuse.

  • Comment number 28.

    Like skittles they will fall: Bruce, Keane, AVB and no doubt others. Chelsea treated Carlo Ancelotti disgracefully I am so please they are not doing well.

  • Comment number 29.

    There are some quite uninformed statements posted on this page.

    Fans did not turn on him until the Wigan game. This was a straw and camel back situation.

    The fans turned on Bruce because
    1) He didn't get the results
    2) He was tactically baffling and inept
    3) He was patronising and insulting towards fans in post match comments. We are not obsessed with Newcastle like he is.
    4) He lost some essential player (Cana, Collins, Bent, Gyan, Henderson and Zenden)

    We could deal with getting beat by Newcastle and finishing behind them IF we could see progress at the club. We are realistic fans but with the set up at our club we do expect progress. Bruce was too old fashioned and slap dash in his approach to management. It probably didn't help him to mention the flipping derbies after each defeat either.

    Good riddance to him. He brought in some excellent players and balanced the books. However he is very limited technically and tactically. Lets have an intelligent manager to organise the good players we have left.

  • Comment number 30.

    Sunderland are not a big team, not really, having a big stadium is not enough anymore and if the fans think their history is really better than at least 25 other teams I can think of then they are deluded.

    However with that said, they are a decent club who should be regular top 10 finishers up there challenging for Europe alongside Everton and Aston Villa.

    Bruce has never really impressed me, he seems able to spot decent hard working players who are willing to sign for him based on his ex-man u reputation but is completely inept in both identifying the necessary cogs he needs to add to his teams and then finding players who fit those spaces (something his ex-boss Fergie does to a T). He has always had a scattergun approach to recruitment, never more so than this year where he seemed to be panicing and buying up every half-decent premiership player who looked his way.

    Bentner could have done well as a third striker like Welbeck was last year, O'Shea is solid when fit, Wickham will be a good player in a few years. but none of them were ever going to replace Bent and when you have such an obvious hold to fill but ignore it then you get what you deserve with the sack.

  • Comment number 31.

    At the end of the day, Bruce didn't do enough to replace Bent and Gyan. Ok, replacing Gyan at the last minute was going to be difficult but it has been 10months since bent left and he hasn't got close to finding someone who will get 20 goals a season.

    I know the stats say that they have scored as many goals and only conceded 2 more thn last year but they are obviously not doing enough to win games and that has to be down to the manager as much as the players.

    The Manager needs to instill that belief into the players. the players need to go out there thinking they are going to win, not thinking about how they are going to spend their tens of thousands of pounds in wages.

    Bruce wasn't strong enough with them which is strange because as a player he was a leader of men, where has this passion gone?

  • Comment number 32.

    So Martin O'Neill has said yes to the job, according to BBC sources?! No Offence to sunderland but thought he would want a bigger job than this one.

    Am surprised by his decision if i'm honest. Think he will do well though and good luck to both O'Neill and Sunderland

  • Comment number 33.

    Why do people think so much of Martin O'Neill, I have had the dubious pleasure of seeing his teams play at Celtic, Leicester, Wycombe, Villa, all of them hit back to front early and most were pretty much football free zones. I have lots of mates who support Celtic and are season ticket holders, they are not daft and realise the SPL is a two team league. Despite their success under O'Neill virtually to a man, they hated the way MON had the Celtic team playing and thinking ones among them were quietly pleased when he left. Sunderland under Steve Bruce were unlucky in the fact that they lost Bent and Gyan, neither were great players, but Bent is a great goalscorer at Sunderlands budget and Gyan could not be replaced for the same money. Sunderland fans, prepare for a limited passing environment under O'Neill, at the SOL, you deserve better.

  • Comment number 34.

    I have wanted O'Neill for years. Quite frankly, his tactics are proven successful which is what we need - fancy football doesn't gain points anyway.

  • Comment number 35.

    Apparently it's fair game to call for Steve Kean to be sacked since Blackburn have been so abysmally poor since he took over.

    If you compare Sunderland and Blackburn's results in the period since Keanr took over, Sunderland actually have the worse record. And that's just in league games - Aldi knocked out of both cups in the first round against lower league sides.

    And Kean certain hasn't had the time or resources that Bruce has had, nor has he been able to shape his own squad to the same extent - Bruce brought in over 30 players in his two and a half years.

  • Comment number 36.

    Sunderland faced the same problem West Ham did last year. They assembled a quality side but still couldn't compensate sufficiently that one quality player they lost or orbited too much around, in the Hammers' case it was the likes of Bellamy and Parker...

    Sunderland will survive indefinitely, but with a degree of discomfort and painful reassessing of their credentials in the aftermath, I think the catalyst to the problems is that the supporters look ahead of them and see their arch-rivals Newcastle flourishing spectacularly?

  • Comment number 37.

    Hackerjack, I think you'll find we are I believe the 6th most succesful club in the country for league championships. Granted non in the recent past but you mentioned history so they you go.

    Brown has been class this season, way ahead of any of our other performers to be honest but that doesn't take much. Bruce didn't lose his job because of where he's from, if that was the case he'd have been sacked just after he was appointed. The reason he was sacked is because he didn't have a clue about tactics, couldn't change a game if it wasn't going well and persisted with too many of his favorites, El Mohamedy and Cattermole have been poor all season, O'Shea looks lost, Richardson has played every where but in goal now this season I think.

    He really didn't have a clue what to do, that's why he was sacked.

  • Comment number 38.

    There have many a lot of comments about the goal difference only being 2 worse than last year and comparing relative league position. A 5-1 defeat at Newcastle on October 31st 2010 and 4-0 win over Stoke on September 18th 2010 skews relative goal differences so any comparison does not show the full picture.

    After the same number of games this season, Sunderland had won less and lost more than this time last year. That's the difference.

  • Comment number 39.

    Correction to #38. Stoke result was this season. September 2011.

    There have many a lot of comments about the goal difference only being 2 worse than last year and comparing relative league position. A 5-1 defeat at Newcastle on October 31st 2010 and 4-0 win over Stoke on September 18th 2011 this season skews relative goal differences so any comparison does not show the full picture.

    After the same number of games this season, Sunderland had won less and lost more than this time last year. That's the difference.

  • Comment number 40.

    The author is quoting Marco Gabbiadini, not stating a fact.


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