Club Focus - Sunderland - Black Cats look to climb the table
It is a curious thing that after such a promising start to the league campaign, lauded by many, Sunderland find themselves at the wrong end of the table, just three points above the drop zone. Steve Bruce has admitted his side must turn draws into the wins and haul themselves up into the top half of the Premier League.
The Black Cats have drawn their last five games, drawn their last two games 0-0 and scored just seven goals in their eight games this season. These statistics have to be put in their correct context however. The fact that Sunderland have played Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal already this season ameliorates them, but only slightly. The six points gained from these games does not look so clever when set against the three points taken from Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers. It is probably not constructive to point out that maximum points from these fixtures would have seen the Black Cats in second position.
Probably the biggest concern is the goal scoring. It is almost becoming a cliché now, that the side are over reliant on Darren Bent to grab them goals, but it is one with a lot of truth. Five of Sunderland’s seven have been scored by Bent and when he is not on form, like on Monday night against Blackburn for example, the side do not look like finding the net. Bruce’s new system, deploying a lone striker may be a factor but that does not hinder many sides who play a similar formation from getting goals. It is down to the players then, and the likes of Steed Malbranque and Jordan Henderson need to start chipping in from midfield. However, there is also the problem of fitting in a £13 million striker and club record signing in the shape of Asamoah Gyan into the equation. Is it time, at home at least, to revert to 4-4-2?
Steve Bruce this week reiterated the frustration of drawing so many games, but hinted that he thinks their current position, lying 13th in the table, might be a false one: “It’s been a bit frustrating really because we could have easily had two or three more wins and been sitting in the top six.” However, said he had few complaints about his side’s start to the season and believes progress is still being made: “We’ve had a tough run of games and the pleasing thing for me has been the consistency in terms of the way we’ve played. I’m hoping we can start turning those draws into wins. The most important thing is we are not beaten.” Aston Villa will provide tough opponents on Saturday at the Stadium of Light and they were one only three away teams to win in Sunderland last year. However, three defeats in their four away games so far means they are vulnerable on the road and Sunderland need to take advantage.