Bruce under pressure as Sunderland slip into a relegation battle

A home defeat by Wigan Athletic – bottom of the Premier League table before kick-off – brought the spotlight firmly on to Sunderland and their manager, Steve Bruce. With only two league victories all season and none in their last four games, the Black Cats are struggling and the pressure is mounting on the former Manchester United captain.

It is all a far cry from just over a year ago, when Sunderland were one of the form teams of the division and, buoyed by a stunning 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, were entrenched as one of the top six sides in the league, above the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Liverpool and Everton. Fast forward to the end of the season, however, and each of those teams bar Newcastle had risen as the Mackems fell, and this year it appears the Magpies will surpass Sunderland too. Sitting now in 16th, two places and two points above Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland are in a relegation battle as Christmas approaches.

The plummet of the second half of last season suggests that the rot set in well before a ball was kicked in 2011-12. From that memorable Chelsea game, which put Sunderland on 19 points from 13 matches, Bruce’s side picked up only a further 28 points from a possible 75. This season, Sunderland hold less than a point per game, taking 28% of the points available. Extrapolated across the length of a season, their current haul would only provide 31 points after 38 games – less than each of last season’s relegated sides. The victory of Chelsea came in Sunderland’s 13th league game of the season, the same number as has currently been played, and Sunderland are eight points down on the equivalent tally. The statistics reflect just how far Sunderland have slipped in 12 months.

Just why Sunderland have done so is the main question, and it is a more difficult one to answer. Much has been made of the loss of Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan, and indeed Sebastian Larsson said to the Sunderland Echo after the defeat to Wigan: “We’re just not good enough in the final third, let’s be honest. We could have been two or three up after 30 minutes but that’s been our problem all season. We don’t take our chances.” 15 goals from 13 games is fewer than even bottom of the table Blackburn Rovers (17) suggests that the forward line is a concern, but matters are no rosier in defence. Wes Brown and John O’Shea were appropriated from Man Utd to add experience to the back line but having conceded as many goals as they have scored, Sunderland’s defenders are making life more difficult for their forward colleagues.

Bruce has steadfastly refused to countenance resignation, and there has proven to be little truth in the internet rumour of Sunday evening that he was about to be sacked, but with just one win in their last 12 games something has to change soon on Wearside – if not the results, then perhaps, eventually, the manager.

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