The swirl of events at the Stadium of Light came to light after this item was prepared. In some ways, it is a response to Jeremy Robson’s merciless attack on Steve Bruce published yesterday, except that it was mostly written before that. Some of the thoughts may be rendered out of date by further developments concerning the club, but for the sake of completeness – and because M Salut is off on some minor travels culminating in Niall’s old stamping ground of Sedgefield at the weekend – here is a piece that is not intended to outrage the Bruce Out camp but will do so in any case …
A friend who supports Chelsea recently asked here whether Steve Bruce really wrote to Salut! Sunderland after each match.
The reply was Yes, but only in the sense that I receive the same e-mail that is sent to all other season card holders on the manager’s behalf. I am sure a press officer writes the words down, but they do fairly reflect what he says on TV so we can take them as his genuine thoughts, and it is good to have them here.
It is highly unlikely that Bruce reads this site regularly. In fact it is more likely that he does not even know of its existence; our club, like all other corporate football entities, wishes to have as little to do as possible with fanzines or fan sites, so we can safely assume no one’s job entails passing on snippets from here to the manager’s office as a matter of course.
That is a pity since Steven would have loved, as I did, the phrase that cropped up in comments the other day.
Ian_safc wrote this: “This site has always been a cauldron of negativity …”
I was taken aback. True, Ian was commenting on a highly negative piece by Jeremy Robson entitled “Win or Lose to West Brom, Steve, your time’s up”.
But my reply suggested that while you could dip selectively into this site’s vast archive and produce 10 extracts to “prove” its negativity, the same exercise but looking for upbeat comment would probably double, treble or quadruple that tally.
It is rare for any posting at Salut! Sunderland to attract 45 comments, but that is the response, at the last count, to Jeremy’s rant. This is a literate and realistic environment as fan sites go, but Steve would have found little in the comments to cheer him.
And after we had neither won nor lost in the game against WBA, but fought back with character from an abysmal start to claim a draw, Bruce declared himself shocked by the criticism he had received over Sunderland’s poor start to the season.
After decades in the game. Bruce is almost certainly not a naive man, so so we must assume he is not really shocked at all, just a bit disappointed, to borrow a word he uses himself quite a lot.
Why the criticism? Played seven. Won one. Drawn three. Lost three. That is straightforward relegation form, leaving us just above the bottom three, and it is not as if we have had the most difficult of opening programmes, two promoted sides and four home games figuring among the seven fixtures.
The next three are tricky, but to many minds – putting to one side those that are already made up, not to mention the fevered speculation certain to follow the announcement that Niall Quinn is no longer our chairman – the future of our manager should rest on how we fare in them.
We start at the Emirates. What a mighty performance would be needed there to emulate last season’s result and snatch a point. Forget Arsenal’s own dismal start: we were lucky not to be beaten there last season and will need the same good fortune, or a display on the lines of Chelsea away last November, when we meet on Oct 16.
Bruce may still, as Pete Sixsmith has suggested here, have the rest of October to show he is at least on the right road. After Arsenal, that means Villa at home, Bolton away. What can we now truly expect from those three matches? Can we honestly see Sunderland coming out of it with seven points to match last season’s haul?
I wanted nine from the four games starting at Carrow Road. Eight seemed a reasonable second best, especially since that would have represented an unbeaten run. Two of those games have passed, yielding all of one point.
How I long for my own pessimism to prove unfounded and a really strong Sunderland performance in both halves of each of the coming three games, without ruinous defending or unforgivable indiscipline, could give us a decent tally. And my own reluctance to join the Bruce Out bandwagon too early, as many did, would be vindicated.
But my patience has been stretched too far for comfort. The Bent and Gyan transfer sagas, the pathetic win rate even at home and the scandalously meek cup exits have all taken their toll on my support for the boss.
Television appearances can be deceptive. But from what I’ve seen, I like Bruce. Provided he did the job for us, I frankly wouldn’t care a hoot who he supported as a lad and maybe supports still. I give him credit for last season’s 10th top position. He was fortunate in terms of how the final results went, but how many would have put it down to sheer bad luck, not to be blamed on him, had results gone slightly differently and left us 13th?
But if, on the evening of Oct 29, we have a record that reads P10 W1 D4 L5 or similar, it will undoubtedly seem to many that there is no further justification for giving Bruce’s team time to “gel”. People will say we are at the outer limits of the timescale for a smooth change of managership. The season, and our top flight status, will be at stake.
Like Pete Sixsmith, I believe it would be an act of extreme folly to get rid of Bruce unless a tip-top replacement were lined up. Sacking him for its own sake would be insane, repeating the mistakes made when parting company with star strikers.
I am still far from convinced that Bruce’s hand was not forced over Bent and Gyan; in the case of the former, the manager may have been acting as no more than a loyal employee when he said allowing him to go without anyone else being recruited was a calculated gamble.
With Gyan gone, again without hint of replacement, we have one attacker with proper Premier experience and he is only with us on loan. However good Ji and Wickham may one day become, they hardly fit the bill yet. What that means for our line-up at the Emirates a week in Sunday is open to speculation. We know we cannot use Bendtner against his parent club but let us hope Bruce has not forgotten the response to his experiment of starting without any striker at all at Brighton.
Yet in an ideal world, to the horror of many people who have written here of late, I would like to see Bruce turn our fortunes around with the squad he has assembled, subject to the strengthening needed in January. It is by no means certain that even a highly competent, carefully chosen successor arriving in late October or early November could do much better. A panic appointment would probably be disastrous.
Of course those who matter most in what happens at the club over the coming weeks or months – and in particular Ellis Short – should not seek to brush off the wave of criticism and concern as the fickle reaction of ungrateful supporters who know no better.
Most of the people who comment at Salut! Sunderland, and in far harsher terms at the Blackcats list, are mature, sensible fans who have devoted many years to supporting their club, developing a keen appreciation of what is good, bad and truly awful in football. Their views deserve respect.
Nor should we forget that after raising his eyebrows at Salut! Sunderland‘s resemblance to a cauldron of negativity, Ian_safc went on to say: “… some of the points I agree with … I must concede that, tactically, I think he has been outdone a number of times.”
That was not the whole story. Ian praised Bruce as being astute in the transfer market, a good man manager with strong relationships with players that Roy Keane did not have and the capacity to lead his team to the sort of encouraging displays we saw against Liverpool and Stoke. “I’m not calling for Bruce’s head yet,” Ian said. “Give him a few more games. We have perhaps the best squad we’ve ever had, capable of the most attrative football seen yet at the SOL. My cup is half full!”
And I would go along with that. A “calculated gamble” it may well be, but I have mentally extended my own period of judgement on Steve Bruce until Sunderland have completed a longer version of the run Pete Sixsmith envisages: namely, I would wait until we have seen what we manage to do not only this month against Arsenal, Villa and Bolton but also in the November matches, which start with what most would see as near-certain defeat at Old Trafford but then bring Wigan and Fulham to the Stadium of Light.
If the owner agrees with my assessment, I’d then expect Bruce to keep his job if he managed reasonable return from those six games.
If the run ended with SAFC in relegation trouble, I would hold the even weightier expectation that Mr Short had someone firmly in mind to take over.
And football being about results, I would add a very big proviso: if that someone has already been identified, but needs a quick decision, the sacrifice of Bruce might be made as early as necessary, a brutal act but in the interests of the greater good of SAFC.
That is fairly tepid support for Bruce but will still leave me out on a limb. Some will say my approach runs the risk of dumping us deeper into trouble before action is taken.
But as things stand, generous as it may seem, I’d give Steve Bruce six games not three to save his job. The only sensible option would be to sack him now and that would make sense only if a replacement was ready to took charge by mid-October.