Soapbox: knocked about in Norwich, a Russian proverb for Bruce

If you have come here looking for rays of hope, an upbeat prediction of brighter times ahead, turn away now. After watching the team that destroyed Stoke fail with a whimper at Carrow Road, Pete Sixsmith despairs of our version of Premier League football …

Our last three away games have been against clubs who have recently been playing in the third tier of English football. We have failed to win any of them.

All three (Swansea, Brighton and Norwich) are managed by bright, imaginative young managers who clearly think very deeply about the game and get the maximum out of relatively limited players.

If we look at last night’s game ( and believe me, I don’t want to see any of it ever again|), we had a fluid and flexible Norwich City, managed by the up and coming Paul Lambert, against a plodding and predictable Sunderland side, managed by Steve Bruce, a man who may well be heading for a lengthy spell on the golf course.

Whereas Norwich pl;ayed with spark and verve, once again we turned in the kind of performance that, the opening 20 minutes excepted, makes one want to give up on Premier League football altogether.

It was the same XI that played so well the weekend before against Stoke, but virtually unrecognisable as the team that had comprehensively destroyed the Potters.

Why was this? One reason is that Stoke are a relatively easy team to play against because you know exactly what you are going to get with them and the management team can work on that.

With Norwich, we encountered a style of play so fluid that we never got to grips with the pace and movement that Paul Lambert demands of his men.

We opened well and had them on the back foot, but as Geoff Mangan said to me: “We need a goal soon.”

We didn’t get it. Dreadful marking by Larsson and Bramble allowed Bennett and Fox to rampage down the wing and for centre half Barnett to arrive unmarked to sweep the ball into the net. A fine goal if you were a Norwich fan, a shoddy one if you were one of the 1,500 Red and Whites there.

From then on, City were in control and the second wrapped the game up for them. O’Shea was easily beaten by Tierney and his excellent cross was headed home by Steve Morrison, a man who was playing for Bishop’s Stortford Town four years ago.

Our midfield was increasingly bogged down and failed to support Bendtner. who worked hard and was foiled by a good save from the edgy Ruddy. However, Sessegnon had a nightmare, lifting the ball over the bar and into the crowd on at least three occassions.

Wickham came on, but his body language suggested he would rather have been hitchhiking down the A12 to Ipswich than playing for Sunderland at Carrow Road and the improvement shown against Stoke regressed alarmingly.

Richardson’s goal should have heralded a grandstand finish, against a team that had not won at home, but we huffed and puffed again and kept giving the ball away.

There were some shouts of “Bruce Out” towards the end, and while the majority remained silent, there was a lot of grumbling as we filed out into the cool East Anglian night.

As for Norwich, they did well but will have far tougher tests than we offered. The whole club reeks of niceness; nice fans, nice manager, nice stadium, nice stewards (“Would you mind sitting down, please?”) and you almost want them to do something awful just to show that they can. Norwich is a lovely place to visit and I hope to do so again, but I am back to having doubts about our manager’s ability.

Once again, he blamed the players for letting him down. Well, Steve, you bought them, you coach them and you pick them, so perhaps a long look at yourself might be in order. He would be well advised to heed the old Russian prover: “Fish rots from the head down.”

24 thoughts on “Soapbox: knocked about in Norwich, a Russian proverb for Bruce”

  1. The scary thing is for all your preaching Norwich were poor and not the attacking force you describe we were well beaten by a team that will get relegated

  2. When you consider a year ago we were starting games with Jones and Bent with a young Martyn Waghorn developing nicely. We now have none of them with Waghorn;s fledgling career now floundering when he was sacrificed to sign Gyan.

    Is Wickham really any closer to the finished product than Waghorn was? Will he ever be? Is Ji as good as Campbell, Welbeck or Waghorn was? If you consider all of these in turn it’s clear that we have gone backwards considerably in 12 months.

  3. One of the weaknesses of a half-hearted Sunderland display against Norwich was the lack of punch in front of goal. When Ji and Wickham came on the performance was much improved. But why did Bruce wait so long before making the substitution (when the game had been crying out for it ever since Norwich’s second goal), and when will the penny drop that one striker on his own is not sufficient?

    Incidentally, why did Sunderland play in blue? There was no clash of shirts/ shorts and the teams have often played each oth er before in their normal colours (e.g. in the League Cup Final of 1985).

  4. The beancounters didn’t stop Bruce paying £13 million for Gyan, far more than he turned out to be worth. Nor, apparently, did they express the opinion that it might be best to sell him on, for a similarly inflated price, as soon as he started agitating to be away. Instead, SB pretended everything in the garden would eventually be lovely and by the time Gyan did his inevitable flit it was too late to find a star-quality replacement.
    I used to think Bruce had his head in the sand. Now I think he’s got it up his backside. I just hope he remembers that before he crosses his legs.

  5. Birflatt Boy

    Since I live in Peterlee it’s grey–always grey but sometimes with white specks called snow!!

    My point was we’ve replaced quality with journeymen, ipso facto we struggle.

    Do you really think Bruce had much of a say in the matter of Zenden and Malbranque when the beancounters got involved?

  6. Scotter; what colour is the sky in your world?

    Who was it that pushed Malbranque out the door when he didn’t want to leave?

    Who was it that didn’t give Zenden a better deal and more playing time?

    I expected a struggle well before Gyan dropped us in it!

  7. Sorry but I have a lot of sympathy for Bruce.
    The simple reason we are struggling and soon to fight a relegation battle is that we have been unable to replace the quality that Bent, Gyan, Wellbeck, Henderson, Malbranque even Zenden gave us last season.
    Players wouldn’t come in the close season or the club was unwilling to break its wage structure to buy in quality. Bruce did well to pick up the players he did but they are essentially a new team which needs time to gel.

    Didn’t we expect a struggle when Gyan dropped us in it?

    Did we really believe the hype that we would improve on last season’s top 10 finish when all our flair players were leaving?

    By the January window if we are still struggling we won’t attract either quality players or a quality manager. So I think game 10 will be the critical point in terms of whether Bruce gets his P45 or not.

    The Board will retain faith in him in my opinion, even if this season’s a write off, because it is planning long term and will not take short term decisions. But it will probably bring in someone to support with tactics and game planning given that Bruce’s immediate backroom seem clueless.

  8. How Bruce cannot see that Bramble is probably the worse defender in the League I don’t understand. However more annoying is the fact that he never starts with a line-up that says, ‘it’s goals that count so start counting’.
    For heaven’s sake lets start with three up front. If the other team scores one we score two. If they get three we get four. Simple.

  9. It’s coming pretty low when SB runs out of inspiration not just for the team but for excuses afterwards. He must have lent his rose-tinted glasses to Bramble for an interview with the Guardian:

    Titus Bramble has claimed that Sunderland’s defeat at Norwich City on Monday night was not a retrograde step for Steve Bruce’s side after all. “We’re disappointed but I don’t think it’s a move backwards,” the central defender said. “We’ve got new players and we’re still gelling.”
    Even so the 2-1 reverse at Carrow Road punctured the optimism engendered by a 4-0 home win over Stoke City eight days earlier. That victory was not merely Sunderland’s first of the season but only their second triumph at home since New Year’s Day.
    “Such statistics leave Bruce under intense scrutiny ahead of Saturday’s game at the Stadium of Light against similarly struggling West Bromwich Albion, while also rather making a mockery of a squad bonding session last week.
    Sunderland’s manager encouraged his players to go go-karting, then out for a Japanese meal followed by several drinks, but this outing clearly failed to have the desired effect.
    “There’s a massive game on Saturday and we need to make sure we get a result,” Bramble said. “West Brom haven’t had the greatest of starts either but they’ve still got good players. They’ll be a threat to us.”

    Ryhope Colliery Welfare would be a threat to them at the moment! And without benefit of go-karting and Japanese meals.

  10. We played without any punch at all; we rarely got the ball into the penalty area and did anyone else notice how many times O’Shea gave the ball away, and got beat by their winger?
    At least Bruce didn’t make any excuses afterwards, perhaps he’s ran out of them.

  11. Chris. That was the reason I was so convinced that he would be gone by now. I’ve never seen Mr Quinn look so resigned and despondent. It was as if he knew that there would be consequences and soon.

    I often wonder whether managers are given “two games to turn it around” or “win tonight or you’re fired!” in such clear terms. It was there for all to see that there is unrest behind the scenes. I made this comment to Birlflatt Lass as we were watching the game.

    Mr Quinn may have been overly supportive of the manager and it may cost him dearly. A fine man that he is, I fear that he has made a grave mistake in not ending Mr Bruce’s reign earlier.

  12. I keep waiting for some news Martin. I can’t imagine that Ellis Short has come to a different conclusion to the rest of us. Last night was truly shocking; one of those displays lacking effort, imagination or pride, and a manager who is so clueless from a tactical point of view that you start to wonder whether he;s trying to get himself the sack. What other explanation is there for his nonsense substitutions? Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful.

    I sincerely hope that they are simply lining someone up ready for when the axe falls. It surely can’t be long now. I fully expected that he would have been gone by now.

  13. I never posted after Stoke because I had a feeling this would happen. The performance last night was unforgivable. A winnable game thrown away shamelessly. Brown and O’Shea – two Mancs that all the other players seem to idolize because of their “winning mentality” were two of the worst players on the pitch. When the teams playing that atrociously and the effort levels are transparently low, why did he wait so long to make a change??

    This team offers nothing going forward and we have nobody with any flare, except Sess, who also stunk last night. It’s all so depressing – I can’t see a way out.

    I hope that Mr O’neill is waiting in the wings, salivating at the prospect of working with Niall and Ellis.

  14. The cameras lingered on Quinny and short during the 2nd half yesterday and the expressions on their faces told a story. I imagine he has a lot of explaining to do today. If he doesn’t go, he must surely be told he’s in last chance saloon.

  15. After last night’s shambles, I have moved from a “wait and see” position to a definite “Bruce out” one, but not without concerns over what would happen next. Who, exactly, would replace steve Bruce? whispers of names like Moyes and O’Neill are all over Messageboards etc, but I cannot help casting my mind back to when Roy Keane left when names like Mancini and Errikson where linked for quite a while. We all waited for an announcment of such an appointment while Sbragia was placed in temporary charge, we all know what happened next. What if a similair situation occured again?, Steve Staunton, Kevin Ball or even Erick Black would maybe get the Caretaker job, they get a run of half a dozen decent results, what would then happen? We need a tactically aware manager who can field a team of players in their correct positions and does not field a starting eleven and then just hope for the best, sounds quite simple but I just cannot see where we will get that man from. Niall Quinn and Ellis Short certainly have their work cut out trying to find such a man, but in my opinion there mabye one out there who is willing to give it a go and who is a realistic option, step forward Gus Poyet, a gamble certainly, but perhaps one that may just pay off.

  16. If he resigns, rather than wait to be fired, does he get the same outrageous payoff, however much it is? Certainly enough that he’ll never have to work again. Which he quite possibly won’t!

  17. Amiable man Mr Bruce. Terrible manager devoid of any ideas, and has been for quite some time.

    There surely can’t be any of our loyal fans standing behind him in support at this point.

    When he arrived I falsely believed that we had a real and proper football man in the dug out. How wrong I was. Some of his selections, and tactical changes simply beggar belief. Last night, his incompetence became cringeingly unbearable. If he has anything about him then he will give in his notice today. Three away games against Swansea, Brighton and Norwich. A single goal and no wins in any of them. It’s a terrible and shameful record. It can’t go on any longer. I am just incredibly surprised that he hasn’t been shown the door by Mr Short already.

  18. Damn it! I hoped / thought / dreamt that we finally had something going at SAFC, with the Bruce-Quinn-Short combo. Alas, I’m now coming around to the view that the weak link in this triumvirate is Bruce.

    His record in 2011 is abysmal, he has had plenty of backing in his team building efforts but he has failed to put out a side that can even just take points off the likes of Norwich, Swansea and the Skunks, all of whom are very average (not to mention bloody Brighton!).

    I suspect Ellis Short is running short of patience! He is a highly successful businessman who will expect his executives (Bruce and Quinn) to deliver. Whilst Quinn’s position is probably safe, Short will no doubt expect someone to be accountable. I will not be surprised to see Short initiate Bruce’s departure – if so, the sooner the better as we cannot afford to see this drag on much longer.

  19. SB said in his post-game letter (whoever writes it for him) that it was “very disappointing.” Usually, it’s just “disappointing.” I wonder if he’ll keep his job long enough for it to reach “heartbreaking.”
    He always seems surprised when the other team plays good football and immediately offers that as an excuse: “Well, of course we couldn’t beat them; they wouldn’t share the ball.”
    Norwich, he said, were full of confidence after their win the previous week. Why weren’t his lads equally full of confidence after hammering Stoke? Probably because Bruce spent the training periods telling them not to let it go to their heads.
    As my school games teacher used to yell at any lad hogging the ball and refusing to pass: “Get rid!” It’s long past time to “get rid.”

  20. “You can fool some of the people all of the time.
    And all of the people some of the time
    But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”

    Unless your name happens to be Steve Bruce.

    Oh and to quote the genius of Roker Park

    “The best 11 footballers do not necessarrilly make the best football 11”
    Len Shackleton.

    Again, unless your name happens to be Steve Bruce.

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