IT HAS certainly been a testing start of the season for Sunderland fans. Hopes were high over the summer of achieving some derby dominance and a credible Carling Cup run, yet both have evaporated just 4 games into the campaign amidst a crippling inability to transform positive passages of play into goals.
The tenacious draw at the Liberty Stadium last week should offer a semblance of reassurance to fans that all is not lost, however. On the face of it, many may not consider a goalless draw with Swansea to be anything to write home about but early season away fixtures at newly-promoted clubs in front of a fervent home crowd are notoriously tricky games. In the past, Sunderland have been regular cannon fodder in such games. So whilst a moral-boosting first win was not recorded, solace can still be found in the fact that there would appear to be more of a steely core to the side compared to recent times.
With that said, the attacking deficiencies were all too clear to see in South Wales. Stephane Sessegnon appears full of verve and creativity, but with Asamoah Gyan looking do desperately out of sorts and bereft of confidence it has become difficult to see where the goals are going to come from. The Ghanaian has cut a frustrated figure this season, perhaps disheartened at being asked to forge a lone furrow up front with little support from a midfield shackled by a restrictive system. Sadly, Gyan seems to have become the target of a disgruntled section of the fan base, but it is support that he really needs.
What is perhaps the biggest worry, therefore, is that the glut of attacking reinforcements probably required to help Gyan in the final third and turn tight games into wins did not materialise before the transfer window closed. Whether it should be considered acceptable or not for a manager to spend a reported £10m on two young strikers that he is not prepared to trust is a debate for another time, but the fact remains that Steve Bruce has shown a reluctance to expose Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won to the rigours of Premier League football and so alternative options were a necessity.
Following a frustrating day of attempting, and failing, to persuade Peter Crouch to confront and overcome what appears to be a pathological fear of the North East of England, Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner was the only new recruit joining on a year's loan deal. The Dane is extremely highly rated, although admittedly mainly by himself, and Sunderland fans will be hoping that regular football can help him blossom into the player he believes himself to be. He does arrive with some genuine pedigree, it must be noted, having represented the Gunners on over 150 occasions.
With the transfer window now shut and no game to look forward to this weekend due to the international break, the onus now falls on the manager to forge his talented squad into a more cohesive unit. Tardiness in addressing the striker shortage aside, there can be little doubting Bruce's ability to identify and attract quality footballers to the club. But if Bruce is finally going to silence his doubters and encourage fans to really embrace his Sunderland vision, he needs to instil some identity into his team and with the time for transfers now gone, and the Bent and Henderson money reinvested, now is the time he must do it. We know he can buy a good team – now he must prove he can build one.