Bruce in, Bruce out? Offering a hand to a drowning man

Red & White in Black & WhiteMrs Logic captures the gloom

Later today, another Salut! Sunderland contributor will identify one glaring flaw in the Bruce Way (in fact it’s already up by accident so can stay!). One point in 24 undoubtedly leaves the club in crisis, one made all the more painful by memories of the false early-season promise. This site is open to other Sunderland supporters who wish to offer their considered views, as articles or in the Comments field. First, though, I wanted to get this off my chest …

By the sea in France. two hours or so after the final whistle at the Stadium of Light not so much put us out of our misery as plunged us into more, I played a minor part in pulling to safety a four-year-old girl who had fallen into the harbour.

When I say minor, I mean it. A younger, faster man was first to reach her and was able to lean over and grab her hand; I took the other.

It would take a hard man to draw any serious comparison between a child in danger of drowning and the game of football.

But since the incident ended happily, or at least without tragic outcome (happy being the wrong word for a child who was naturally shocked and distressed), it is difficult for the man who is also a Sunderland supporter not to make the metaphorical link: would I extend my hand to help Steve Bruce in his moment of need or have thousands of other more active fans – ie there to see our disgrace, when I was not – already made the decisive response?

Niall Quinn would struggle to make out a sound intellectual case for despising me on the grounds that I was not at the stadium on Saturday to share the anguish of seeing three points squandered so easily.

It is true that I made the usual frustrating trawl of the internet in search of a stream that would not suddenly switch to Bolton v West Ham, as one did, or stop and start like a car with fuel pump trouble. I then settled for listening to the match on BBC Radio Newcastle, which consistently provides excellent coverage from Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett. That’s a service I pay for, via the official SAFC site; what is more, I also paid for the seat I didn’t occupy in the East Stand, having retained a season ticket despite my distance from Wearside, and no, it’s (apparently) not tax-deductible.

So even if my view is less valuable than that of the long-suffering man, woman or child who passes through the turnstile – Pete Sixsmith is an obvious example but there were 40,000 or so others at the weekend – it is still the opinion of a committed fan.

I heard the jeers of the crowd as the second lead was not only cancelled out but turned into a deficit. I also heard Gary Bennett’s groans, punctuating Barnes’s commentary. When I then looked at my desktop screen for a delayed glimpse of the action, I could see precisely what had prompted the derision.

Yet no, I would not sack Steve Bruce today, or even after another defeat, which most of us probably now regard as likely, at Birmingham on Saturday.

This is less a vote of confidence than an acknowledgement that unless he really has lost the dressing room, a judgement I’m in no position to make, it is quite the wrong stage of the season for such a dramatic gesture. There is also an impulsive feeling that Bruce has, in large measure, got us into this mess so Bruce should get us out of it, but that is a weaker argument, and may overlook matters beyond his control (eg if Darren Bent’s untimely sale was against his will).

I simply cannot see it being possible to effect, in April, a change that will have the instant impact desired and turn a team playing without confidence or concentration into one bristling with self-belief and punch, unable to accept defeat. Such desperate motivational tricks have worked (Peter Reid narrowly saving us from another drop to the third tier comes to mind), but they are rare.

And against the drift of opinion, I am by no means sure that Martin O’Neill is the man to pull it off or even, necessarily, the logical next appointment. We berate some of Bruce’s tactical decisions, but Villa fans had quarrels with MON, too.

It may be that come the end of May, another look has to be taken at whatever situation we find ourselves in. Ellis Short will take that took for sure. It is possible, though unlikely, that we will have been relegated, in which case there would be no proper alternative to dismissal of the manager. If we’ve scraped survival, the case for keeping him would not be much stronger. But if, starting with this Saturday, Bruce has launched us on to a winning run to restore respectability and even a top 10 place, then he’d be fully entitled to another chance to put things right on a more lasting basis.

Not every reader of Salut! Sunderland climbed to the rooftops to cheer when Bruce was appointed. I was initially lukewarm but came round to admire what seemed his steadying influence and decent approach. Plenty now, of course, are calling for his head whatever they once thought, and that is entirely understandable. I shudder to think what has been going through the minds of Short and Quinn as they have watched our meek and incompetent recent displays.

But Bruce, as is well known, signed a contract extension in February. He wouldn’t be difficult to dislodge, but would certainly be expensive. If we go down, he’d probably he content to accept the disappointment of failure and move on; if we stayed up by the skin of our teeth, departure would not make him a pauper.

It would be wrong to suggest that leaves him in a no-lose position. Steve Bruce is beyond question a man of pride and professionalism. He wants to save our season just as much as we want him to do so. I just pray he has it in him to lift the players’ spirits, remind them of the pride they too should take in wearing the shirt and quickly gets the points needed to enable us to breathe more easily.

Was Chelsea away a never-to-be-equalled fluke? Were we just lucky to pick up the points we did earlier in the season? Is the true measure of our standard the way we played in both games against Newcastle and West Brom, or at Wolves and Everton, in two cup exits and at both Manchesters? It’s a frightening thought that we really are no better than that.

The notion has occurred more than once over the past few decades that underachievement, at least at the top level, is built into the Sunderland AFC psyche, that a sudden import of the Barcelona first team squad would actually make little difference once they pulled on the red and white striped shirts. But the other side of that coin would have Elmo, Ferdinand, Turner, Malbranque – you could exclude Mignolet and list almost the entire Saturday team, and a few on the bench – turning into worldbeaters the moment they joined another club; so maybe we could settle for Barca all the same.

I still believe an abrupt change now would be unlikely to produce a truly beneficial effect, unless mere avoidance of relegation – which would probably be achieved in any case – amounted to the peak of our ambitions. That is not to say the same thinking needs be applied in the close season. But the response to a little girl in difficulty in the water is not to panic her if the circumstances permit a calmer approach, and the time is not right – in my view at any rate – for a frenzied attempted fix at the Stadium of Light.

Monsieur Salut

Monsieur Salut

20 thoughts on “Bruce in, Bruce out? Offering a hand to a drowning man”

  1. Great post Moondog – exactly what I think although expressed much more eloquently than I could ever manage
    I support the team – I don’t wasnt to rip the managers and the players to shreds , let’s get behind them , because they can play a lot better than recent performances suggest

  2. Sorry Moondog (you may be a world beater). Can you cross a ball? 🙂

    I was referring the flying Pharoah of course!

  3. Sorry Moongod was not a world beater before Christmas. Some people seemed to think that he was ok but that’s about it. I’ve not seen anything from him since he arrived which suggests that he is even a Championship player. He doesn’t provide crosses and is never a threat. Hasn’t scored and as others have said is limited with all other parts of his game.

    As for Bruce, I really don’t think that this is a case of sacking a man who has failed to get us into Europe although it could come to the point of sacking a man that has managed to get us relegated yet again. If he was to get the boot right now after collecting 1 point out of 24 he couldn’t complain. Not only is his recent record deplorable, but he has the look of a man who has shot his bolt in the job. Seeing his side concede two leads in a home game and he had nothing to offer from the touchline. That is shocking. If he didn’t have anything tactical to offer in that situation then he’d have looked a lot more competent and committed to the fight if he just gave them a bollocking. Sunderland doesn’t have a record of sacking manager too early. Our tradition is to hang on for far too long. The only manager who got the boot too early (and unjustifiably) in the last thirty years was Allan Durban. Clubs get criticised for sacking managers and you get pundits talking about the “need for stability.” They piss me off no end because it’s easy to have stgability when you are winning, but not when you are getting your bait put up every week. The sort of situation that they are talking about which “needs stability:” would get clubs relegated to the Blue Square.

    Patience has its place, but its not for this farce with Bruce.

  4. Great set of posts here, lads, for which I am very grateful. Wherever you’re coming from on the issues under discussion, the standard of debate is high and that speaks volumes about our club and especially its support. I will try to deal properly with some of the points raised tomorrow, once I’ve got some (paid-for!) work out of the way.

  5. Extraordinary. I read the exact opposite of all the negatives here and elsewhere in December. Elmo was a future world beater before xmas, and now he compares unfavourably to Daryl Murphy!?!

    The recent run of games has been VERY tough – the easiest on paper being Everton and Stoke away – 2 places where anyone could struggle to get points. Couple that run of games (I hoped for 10 points MAX in the last 8, personally) with the loss of Darren Bent and various others through injury, and the players have been left low on morale and confidence.

    They are still the same players that took us to the heights from which we fall – and nobody was complaining when we were up there.

    We were told that top ten was the target, and now there are so many that think SB should go because we won’t make europe. How about judging our position at the end of the season in comparison with that target?

    We’re all hurting right now – and compared to 2010, games seem unbearably hard to watch – but I can see a lot of talented young players that will be stronger for this experience, and that might seriously make for a european push over the next few years.

    If Bruce goes whilst still building this squad – who comes in? Do they dismantle the side he built and start from scratch again? Can Ellis Short really afford the time and money required to actuate that kind of staff turnover?

    I’m constantly amazed at the short sightedness of football fans – didn’t Manchester United fans want Fergie out while they were still second rate? Aston Villa fans wanted MON out after regular top 6 finishes – where are they now?

    The situation is FAR from critical, and as a supporter, I curiously feel the need to support the club’s manager et al – especially given the improvement during his tenure. Could you imagine even pushing a top 4 side close over 90 minutes under Keano?

    A dismal(pathetic/embarrassing/diabolical – insert your own negative adjective by all means) run of results does not make or break the season, nor define the club and it’s players as poor. We have underperformed and even been unlucky on occasion – but before xmas we were joint top of the clean sheet table, and that states a massive amount about how far SB has already taken us.

    Whether he can take us as far as we hope is debatable, but unless our season really IS over, and we can expect nothing more from a very talented group – which I doubt – now is not the time for change.

    I would still be surprised if we don’t finish top ten as targeted – and consolidation on that as opposed to Europe should be our target for next season.

    I have seen this team play some of the best football in a Sunderland shirt in my lifetime. So quickly we forget…who could blame the players for believing you when yo utell them they’re not good enough?


    oh – and FTM…

  6. There have been a number of horrific performances this season but I don’t think there have been any more than we normally get.We are at best a 7th-10th place team and that position is still attainable if we can get our act together. It is a tight and crazy league this season.

    What is most concerning is the way we are losing at the moment .A lack of passion and desire is unforgivable and that is down to the manager to install that in the team, all of whom he signed for this club. If they are not playing for him obviously he has to go but we have no proof of that.

    I think we need one more win to be safe and assuming we don’t capitulate as in 1985 we should be breathing easily by the end of the month. I hope Bruce can learn lessons from the failings this season as I can’t see him resigning or being sacked in the forseeable future which means we are stuck with him.

  7. Davey. You can talk all you like about Chelsea etc. That seems a long time ago now, in the wake of defeats at home to Blackpool, Notts County and WBA. There are more to come, believe me!

    The performances and results clearly show that there has been no progress at all. Bents goals have hidden an array of faults too great to cover. No, I don’t think Elmo is better than Edwards. He is certainly no better than even Murphy who did weigh in with the occasional goal and setting up others.

    He’s lumbered us with a whole load of crap that we’ll be lucky to move on at any price.

  8. Richardson has scored 4 this season (2 from left back and 2 from midfield against Blackpool), Henderson has 1. And that is all there is from the middle. 3 goals, 5 if your generous. In 32 games!

    Bardsley (who was on his way out of the club last July) has 3 goals from 26 games, wherever he’s been asked to play, and, as someone who was very dispensable to the club, is now in line for the PotS award. He deserves it. It’s about heart and commitment.

    SB has never addressed the left back problem, still doesn’t know his centre-back pairing and if he thinks he’s going to be let loose with a bag of money to solve our problems during the close season, he’s dreaming. He can’t even identify them now.

    We won’t go down. This season will peter out but I’ll be surprised if he’s here next season. It’s not knee-jerking, he’s using the ‘back to the training ground’ language that Reid used in his final days only 4 years early than PR did. When you stand at the back of the dug-out with your coach, your struggling.

    Expect a ‘talking Swahili’ comment soon.

  9. I don’t know where your optimism originates Davey, but I admire it, even though I can see absolutely no justification for it.

    Quite frankly, since Christmas we have been nothing short of pathetic. How there can be any cause for optimism after gathering 1 point from 24 is simply stating that black is white!

    Mr Ramsdale’s points as ever are well justified. To be honest TB has played remarkably well for most of the time, but unfortunately the age old lapses of concentration have reared their heads. Bruce looks as if he has lost the dressing room. Presiding over that display on Saturday I would expect at least some sort of instruction, or remonstration from the touchline. He looked completely lost and devoid of any intervention that would make a difference. For me that can mean only one thing. Close the door on your way out!

    He has to go because the situation is starting to look beyond redemption. The biggest problem he faces is the fact that he dropped Henderson, Muntari and Sessegnon etc from the midfield and yet both our strikers failed to get a chance created by which they could get an effort on target in 90 mins. Staggering but true regardless of who is in the middle of the park. The midfield lacks supply or any threat in itself, and the defence has just caved in. I hoped that Turner’s return would tighten things up but he was very poor as well.

  10. Taking all the comments on board , I’m just as frustrated as everyone else , I go to most away matches too . However I would hate to see us turn into those so called fans – down the road , baying for blood every season . In truth we were punching above our weight when we were 5th or 6th in the league – a mid table finish was always on the cards – it still is . We have been , brilliant , average and poor this season – let’s get rid of the poor for next season

  11. Interesting point, Bernard. Others will have a fuller picture by my impression was that he was rock solid in most games until the new year after which his form wobbled and finally collapsed before the injury a week or so ago put him out, probably for the season.

  12. Steve Bruce has gone through this kind of thing before at Wigan. I can’t understand why the same thing should be happening again at Sunderland.

    At Wigan he had a damned good excuse for leaving because he was constantly needing to sell his best players to due to the Wigan public’s apathetic attitude to sport in general.

    On leaving Wigan he didn’t help his cause with his ‘I’m used to shopping at Tesco, now I can shop at Harrods’ comment, but hand on heart we really could see his point.

    He was convinced that Sunderland were the club that he could finally become what he craves most, and that is being a successful top flight manager. He is still far away from that personal target and I am wondering whether or not he has lost the dressing room, just like he did at Wigan?

  13. Of course Elmo is better than Edwards or Murphy – I’m better than Murphy !!! Of course Ferdinand is better than Nyron – and of course we are better than before – had we not beaten Chelsea away , Villa away and drawn with Man Utd and Arsenal at home ; then we had taken those 8 points in recent matches everyone would be a lot happier – flying up the league – get a grip man

  14. It’s all very well talking about getting behind the players. Forty thousand turned up at the weekend and that’s all we’ve done for bloody years, get behind the players! It makes it sound like its the fans to blame.It isn’t. It’s the overpaid, indolent, unmotivated dross that Bruce has signed and picks every week.

    Is Elmo any better than Edwards or Murphy? Is Ferdinand any better than Nyron was? Has anyone seen anything from Sessegnon, Cattermole or Muntari which demonstrates their superiority to Grant Leadbitter?

    We have a bunch of midfield players including Muntari, Sessegnon, Malbranque, Cattermole and Elmo who haven’t contributed a single goal this season. I think Zenden has one and the lack luster Henderson another one. Riveros hasn’t played much but looks like he might impress if he was playing for Shotton Comrades against Peterlee Moorcock, but not at PL level. I know Meyler is injured but he hasn’t either. Even Bardsley has got three!

    Does this suggest that we are better than before?

  15. 1 point behind ninth after getting 1 point out of 24. If ever we needed an emphasis of what Bruce has thrown away, that’s it.

  16. I can’t help thinking about the Roy Hodgson situation at Liverpool where he just couldn’t get the team to perform, and as soon as he goes they start to play! I really don’t think the same is happening at Sunderland, however the players are defineatley not playing as one (a team). Have they thrown in the towel now that Europe is out of reach? and is it a case that they just don’t have the stomach for a relagation fight? Certainly something is amiss amongst the players and SB needs to find out what it is quickly. We’ve seen how this team can perform so it’s not their ability it’s their heart. They need a confidence boost but they will only get it by pulling together and playing as a team and not a bunch of individuals, they should be busting a gut for the cause and the badge. We can beat Birmingham it just needs the players belief.

  17. We need to get behind the manager and the team for the rest of the season – see where we end up and then sort it out in the summer
    It’s the craziest season ever in the Premiership – we are still ony 1 point behind 9th place !!!!!!!!!!

  18. I missed the match out of choice. I was travelling to Preston for my mate’s 40th birthday and another chance to see the wonderful Gangsters of Ska in action (they played at our wedding).

    On the drive over all was well with the world. As we passed through Kirby Stpehen the National had just started on the radio. My horses from the sweepstake were doing well.

    We pulled into the Black Swan at Ravenstonedale to catch the last few minutes of the race. In the space of just a few minutes both my horses vanished from the screen. Neither finished.

    Then by the time we got back to the car, just one pint later, Sunderland had gone from 2-1 up to lose 3-2. What weird vortex had I driven into?

    The band were good though and the party well worth the effort. Are Sunderland worth the effort these days? That’s another question.

    I am in a position where, because of work commitments in the next few weeks and the overlap of the footy and cricket season, I probably won’t see them again this season. Will that bother me? No it won’t.

  19. Faie comment, with some pertinent points raised. I was not over the moon with SB’s appointment,but was willing to give him time to prove me wrong. At first there did appear to be some stabilisation at the Club and we all hoped that the foundations were being laid for a new era. However since that time, and at a great backing financially from ES, we appear to be no closer to a new era or a springboard for a top end of the table established Club.

    This half of the year has seen the same old anxieties resurfacing within the squad.Tyhis begs the question as to what progress has SB made with regards to the squad. We certainly on paper have a stronger set of players and the squad quality is certainly better than previous seasons. However, am I alone in thinking that this is even more disconcerting that old failings appear regardless of the squad composition.

    Two key events happened this season, the sale of Bent and the SB contract extension. I have said on this site before that the Club needed to make a statement regarding the Bent sale, i.e a time line of events would be helpful and was really required after the unseemingly mud slinging in the press after Bent’s departure.

    Secondly, why extend SB’s three year contract when nothing had be proved to be gained under his management. I am a firm believer in the manager being judged at the end of the season and that should heve proved to be sufficient for SB this season. After all he still would have had an other season to fix the problems. But extending his contract when nothing had be proven was at best ill advised and at worst grossly negligent by creating additional problems for the Club.

    I hope that SB is capable of pulling things around and that we have strong finnish to the season which always breeds confidence for the start of the next both in fans, players and the Club as a whole. As far as I am concerned that is SB’s task between now and the end of the season. A strong finnish in my mind is not just about gaining points, although that is obviously key, but we need to display some football and desire even if we do lose some of the remainig fixtures.

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