Steve Bruce was sacked on Wednesday as the manager of Sunderland with the club languishing in 16th place in the Premier League. Bruce’s dismissal means that he is the first managerial casualty in England top-flight this season, having overseen just two wins from 13 league fixtures. This record ultimately sealed Bruce’s fate, as confirmed by Black Cats chairman Ellis Short.
Afforded a significant level of financial backing from American Short, Bruce comfortably emulated this feat of keeping Sunderland in the Premier League in his first season on Wearside by leading the club to a 13th place finish. Last campaign he oversaw an improvement on this performance, as the Black Cats clawed themselves into the top half with a final day 3-0 away win over West Ham.
This represented Sunderland’s highest end of season league standing since the 2001 and was achieved despite the club’s decision to sell top scorer Darren Bent for club record £24m to Aston Villa in January, one which was taken out with Bruce‘s control. During the second half of last season, the potential adverse impact of Bent’s exit on Sunderland’s fortunes was temporarily controlled as Bruce was able to call upon the attacking flair of talismanic figure Asamoah Gyan and Manchester United loanee Danny Welbeck to help put points on the board.
However, following Welbeck’s return to Old Trafford and Gyan’s controversial season-long loan move to UAE side Al-Ain in August, Bruce’s failure to neither recruit suitable replacements for these players and Bent nor develop a system to make Sunderland a potent attacking force without them became increasingly evident.
This was especially the case in the Black Cats last two home games, from which their loyal supporters could have rationally expected to take maximum points. Instead they took just one, which can be argued as being as much down to profligacy among the pool of strikers Bruce put his faith in to score the goals required for Sunderland to consolidate their position as a top ten Premier League side, as it was to the very poor level of service offered by those players tasked with supplying them.
Whilst Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-Won, Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon have mustered just six goals between them this season, that woeful tally is as indicative of Sunderland’s inability to establish any form of fluency in their general play as it is of the wasteful finishing of these strikers. Aside from Seb Larsson, who has performed admirably, the midfielders Bruce signed in the summer have struggled to positively influence Sunderland’s form in the way he would have desired. A reluctance to place the level of trust in the respective abilities of Craig Gardner and David Vaughan required to replicate the prominent roles they played at their previous clubs essentially resulted in a weakening of Bruce’s midfield options compared to last season, when Jordan Henderson and Bolo Zenden made invaluable contributions to his side’s cause.
As such the extent and nature of this player turnover during the course of 2011, which Steve Bruce is largely responsible for, has resulted in a Sunderland squad that is desperately short of attacking quality.
The consistent exposition of this issue over a growing number of games at the Stadium of Light is something that the Sunderland support were no longer willing to tolerate and held Bruce accountable for, as illustrated by their reaction towards him at the end of what proved to be his final game in charge against Wigan on Saturday. The task for Bruce’s long-term successor is to instigate a turnover of Sunderland’s forward thinking players and to develop a team capable of delivering a brand of enterprising football to the Black Cats faithful.
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