Colin Randall casts an eye on the comings and goings at the Stadium of Light and considers the question on everyone’s lips: has Steve Bruce struck the right balance? …
No last-minute surprises in terms of new men coming in, despite a flurry of rumours about a loan exchange with Spurs involving Anton Ferdinand and Alan Hutton.
So we make do for now with the acquisitions Steve Bruce as made and bid farewell to a number of players who have served the club well.
Salut! Sunderland has been full of praise in the past for the massive commitment of Danny Collins, deservedly holder of player-of-the-season awards. Dean Whitehead, despite the reservations of those complaining that he lacked flair, so often provided the backbone a moderate team needed, and he did show occasional glimpses of more finesse than some thought he possessed.
Carlos Edwards will for ever be remembered for his marvellous, utterly crucial goals at Southampton and at home to Burnley as we charged towards the championship under Roy Keane. Teemu Tainio was probably our most professional of midfielders, though injuries stopped him making a greater impact.
Anthony Stokes has a chance at a lower level to show that the gifts that so impressed Keano in training, but were rarely witnessed by fans, are no illusion. He, too, carries our best wishes, as do young Martyn Waghorn and Jack Colback in their loan spells at Leicester and Ipswich. Paul McShane was given too much stick by Sunderland fans, and must have dreaded turning out for us, but his mistakes – after a riproaring start in red and white stripes – had certainly tried the patience. Chopra was a case of “good riddance” whatever the truh of his bizarre miss at St James’ Park and Halford had ceased to occupy our thoughts after his disastrous run in the side was followed, to our relief and probably his, by loans.
Now the test for Bruce: are the men he has brought in – Da Silva, Bent, Campbell, Cattermole, Turner, Mensah, Cana – a cut above those who have gone? Is the new-look squad the one that will deliver Ellis Short’s declared aim of a top 10 finish this season?
After our mixed start to the season, and the late arrival of De Silva and Turner, the jury is necessarily out. If the jury is hurried into a quick pronouncement, it will probably be a majority verdict.
But it is fair to point out that the players who have gone, and one or two who haven’t (much as we wish they had, for their own benefit – at least as players – as well as ours), were part of a mediocre squad, one that had failed in each of the past two seasons to lift us above the status of relegation strugglers.
Whatever gratitude we feel towards individuals who at least shone in terms of effort and passion, the fact is the team was not good enough to move us on. Without strengthening, it would have struggled again this season.
Now we can sit back and watch Steve Bruce, who has shown a degree of steel in his handling of the ins and outs, try to mould his squad – that is, the one he in part assembled, as opposed to the one he inherited – into a side capable of challenging for the upper midtable.
And the jury may be only two games away from delivering its verdict: if ambition and expenditure is to be matched by results, six points from Hull at the Stadium of Light and Burnley away should be non-negotiable.