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Bruce proves a point or three
9:00am Friday 23rd September 2011 in Sunderland
SUNDAY afternoon's three points couldn't have come quick enough for both Steve Bruce and the Sunderland fans.
The gaffer was desperate to quell growing scrutiny over his position at the helm of the good ship SAFC and the fans, well, we were beginning to forget what it was like to win at home. Bruce's record since the turn of the year certainly didn't make pleasant reading for anyone involved with the side, no matter what excuses are presented in his defence.
This has not been the first time that Bruce has been critical of the pressure that comes with managing a Premier League side in one of the - if not the - biggest hotbeds of football in the country. Expectations at the Stadium of Light have been raised in recent years and, rightly or wrongly, results are expected almost immediately.
While Bruce may have eloquently described the situation as â€˜mass hysteria', for me it was nothing more than a storm in a teacup. The summer months saw a mass recruitment drive and, despite bringing in the vast majority of his targets through the doors while other clubs were still booking their Mediterranean breaks, it was always going to take some time for the side to, clichÃ© alert, gel and my oh my did they gel on Sunday.
Like many of the fans that made up the depleted attendance due to the Great North Run at the Stadium on Sunday, I was wary of the threat Stoke are capable of posing. Like it or not, Tony Pulis has got his side playing effective, if at times ugly, football and it is a style of football that SAFC have struggled to deal with previously.
However, we all needn't have worried as Sunderland finally came good and put in the performance that, in flashes, they have been threatening to put in so far this season.
The major change and easily one of the biggest decisions Bruce has made to date as the Sunderland boss was to leave out his skipper Lee Cattermole. It is no secret that he is a huge admirer of his tenacious midfielder and has backed his man to the hilt as sections of the media began a witch hunt thanks in no small part to Cattermole's erratic disciplinary record. He got it spot on.
Sunderland's midfield looked a far more effective and dynamic unit without Lee who will have to pull out all the stops in training to win a starting place ahead of Craig Gardner and the impressive David Vaughan -and that's before you figure the emerging Jack Colback into the mix.
Praise too has to go to the former Manchester United duo. John O'Shea making his home debut slotted neatly into the right back berth in the absence of the suspended Phil Bardsley and Wes Brown continued his rich vein of form, with the pair noticeably inspiring confidence in those around them.
So with some pride and confidence installed back into the side, Steve and his troops head off to an away fan's worst nightmare - a midweek clash with Norwich. Bruce is of course no stranger to Carrow Road having made a name for himself there before his big move to Manchester United and was the man of the match in 1985 when The Canaries beat Sunderland in the Milk Cup Final.
I'd expect to see Bruce retain his faith in the starting eleven which performed so admirably for him last time out. Hopefully the home team will be so kind as to gift us with a penalty, something they have become accustomed to this year.
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