Reality Check For Sunderland And Steve Bruce

"Management is a test when you are up against it, but we can't feel sorry for yourself. You have to roll your sleeves up, get on with it and have a bit of hunger and fire in your belly to make sure that as an individual and a team you try everything to turn it around" - Niall Quinn, Chairman of Sunderland FC
Sunderland face another moment of harsh reality and collection of one point from nine games has embroiled Steve Bruce's side in an unexpected relegation battles. This has put the Black Cats and Bruce in unwanted spotlight.

Anyway, this is not the first crisis under Bruce's reign. Previously there has been a 14-match win-less streak which was ended with a 4-0 thrashing of Bolton Wanderers on 9th March 2010. But what makes the current crisis even worse than before is that, the current season is nearing to end and stakes are very high to avoid relegation. At one point of this season, the Black Cats were on the prowl and dreaming of European qualification. Now, they are sitting at wrong end of table and facing relegation dog-fights to merely maintain their Premiership status.

Sunderland owner, Ellis Short has continued ploughing in tens of millions and Bruce has boosted his number of player signings to 19 (including loans) in under two years. But, last month the owner used Sunderland's website to speak publicly for the first time since taking charge in 2009. His message was clear: he wanted to see the team "improving every year" and "finishing well in the top 10" this season. And it was stressed that relegation "must never happen".

In January, Sunderland stood sixth such aims appeared entirely feasible. Indeed their manager, controversially, boasted that he had built "the best team this club have ever had", before revealing a desire to coach England. At that time no one was concerned that Bruce did not actually coach his players – he delegates such duties to his assistant, Eric Black. Pride often precedes falls and recent weeks have seen the 50-year-old struggle to cope with Darren Bent's £24m departure to Aston Villa. To make it worse, serious questions are being asked about Bruce's management quality and his modus operandi.

The collapse in form suffered by Jordan Henderson, the over-hyped England Under-21 midfielder Bruce has valued at £30m, and the disappointing impact of January recruits Stephane Sessegnon and Sulley Muntari could hardly have happened at a more embarrassing time. While Short and chairman, Niall Quinn may be privately debating the wisdom of granting Bruce a lucrative three-year contract extension in February, the team's failure to win a home game since beating Blackburn on New Year's Day has plunged them in deeper trouble.

When, two summers ago, Quinn and Short lured Bruce from Wigan, Sunderland secured a man of disarming, humour laden charm and, above all, a perceived understanding of the north-east's peculiar regional psyche. He was handed substantial funds to sign "names" including Bent, Lee Cattermole and Asamoah Gyan while radically overhauling Roy Keane's squad. His 19 acquisitions – four have since moved on – were matched by a comparable number of departures. Change was needed, but the scale of the churn factor is attracting scrutiny. Especially as Sunderland have only scored twice in six games.

While there is an acceptance that Bent was desperate to leave, fans ponder whether Kenwyne Jones, sold to Stoke for £8m last summer, might not have proved the target man the gifted yet erratic Gyan clearly craves. Similarly why spend £7m on Sessegnon while dispensing with Andy Reid's proven goal creating potential? Admittedly, numerous injuries have undeniably damaged a campaign in which five players have suffered recurrences of serious knee trouble following surgery.

"Only seven players have been involved in more than 60% of our games. That's where it's gone wrong," Bruce said. A summer inquest is scheduled but no one is entirely sure whether he will still be around to conduct it.

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