Club Focus – Sunderland – Bruce faces selection headache but keeps one eye on Europe

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce must be holding his head in his hands this morning. But why? The former Wigan Athletic supremo last week guided Sunderland to an undefeated double in London, taking four points from six from a draw at White Hart Lane and a superb victory over champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge respectively. And as the sun rises to herald a new day on Wearside, travel must be the last thing on Bruce’s mind as his Sunderland stars host Merseysiders Everton at the Stadium of Light this evening.

The reason the ex-Man United captain is massaging his temples is because he faces a selection headache with the news that Darren Bent has returned to fitness and enters the fray for selection. The primary problem is that Bent joins record signing Asamoah Gyan and on-loan striker Danny Welbeck in the manager’s mind, although the 49-year-old’s position is somewhat enviable as he now has three capable strikers vying for two starting positions – and, in reality, he couldn’t be more pleased about it.

Darren has been fantastic for 18 months. It gives me an awful headache,” he told The Guardian. “When he was our only recognised striker, the owner [Ellis Short] dug deep and we managed to bring in Asamoah. When Darren did get injured, he took up the mantle and he came to the plate just when we needed him. I am delighted with the kid. He will give me a hell of a selection headache but those are the kind of decisions you enjoy making.

The Black Cats have endured a run of 12 games without a win over their counterparts this evening, but their fine recent form is something many fans are hoping will push the players to end such a drought. David Moyes has told this week of how impressed he has been with Sunderland’s resurgence so far this year under Bruce, but now must stop them in their tracks if he hopes to get the kick start the Toffees need to pull themselves further away from relegation.

Bruce, meanwhile, has also claimed that the Mackems are playing the kind of football required to attract European competition to the Stadium of Light next term. Sunderland’s highest finish since the Premier League was introduced in 1992 has been seventh, which they achieved in consecutive seasons under the guidance of Peter Reid between 1999 and 2001. Seventh was not enough to qualify for continental competition, but Bruce feels this is a duck he can definitely end this season.

Speaking to The Telegraph, he said: “Can we compete in Europe? We’ve got a possibility with what we’ve got. We’ve got some good young players. The important thing is holding on to them and signing a couple as well. Ultimately we’d love to see the club compete in Europe. You see all these games with half-filled stadiums and I think we’d jam ours to the rafters.” The manager refused to get too carried away too early in the season, however, adding: “Overall, apart from the Newcastle debacle, we’ve played very well. The big challenge now is the next 10 games. They’ll define our season.

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