Club Focus – Sunderland – Bruce hopes for improvements on the road at Ewood tonight

Tonight, the Black Cats travel to Ewood Park for a tough fixture against Blackburn Rovers. A promising start to the season has greatly increased optimism on Wearside, but Steve Bruce knows an away win tonight would increase this new sense of positivity immeasurably.

Darren Bent is still an injury doubt, and may be ruled out with the groin injury he picked up on international duty. This would be a major blow for Bruce’s side, who have become incredibly reliant on the goalscoring of Bent, one of only five players – including Kenwyne Jones – to score for Sunderland this year. Fraizer Campbell remains out for the long term with his knee problem and so the side are beginning to look a bit light up front. Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck are both available however, but beyond them there are no further attacking options. Elsewhere on the injury front, the news is a bit more positive with Kieran Richardson and Anton Ferdinand back in contention for a start, as well as John Mensah and goalkeeper Craig Gordon. Bruce faces somewhat of a selection dilemma here, and may choose to keep in-form Simon Mignolet between the sticks.

Bruce knows that his team’s good start to the season is merely a foundation to what could be a successful campaign for the Black Cats. It will mean little if his team does not build on it and beat those teams that finished last season around and below them. Speaking at his press conference, he admitted his side faces a rigorous test against tough opposition, but that a win had to be the aim: “Blackburn are a difficult team to beat. We’re playing them away from home so getting a point would be a great result, but of course you’ve got to look at the game as an opportunity to get there and get three points on the board.” Away wins are about as rare as Sunderland goalscorers other than Darren Bent under the Bruce tenure and he is clearly aware of this, admitting again that this has to change: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to win away from home. Other teams are finding that too. It is hard for teams and last year our away form let us down, I don’t want to be saying the same thing at the end of this season.”

Sunderland have not lost to Blackburn in the league for two seasons, yet have often struggled on trips to Ewood Park over the past few years. As Bruce recognizes, the game offers his side a small chance of picking up their first away win this term. What would be only their second victory this term would be their most impressive result of the season so far, and a clear signal of intent. Goals could be at a premium as both sides are hardly free scoring, so a goalless draw is also a distinct possibility. Therefore, Bruce will be desperate for Bent to play some part but would be unwise to gamble on the striker’s fitness in such a fixture.

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