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Northern Exposure: Sunderland's season could just be beginning

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06 Apr 2011 15:20:40

Northern Exposure: Sunderland's season could just be beginning

Did Sunderland's season end in January? Or is it just beginning? Steve Bruce has been waiting to get the Manchester City game out of the way for weeks. And this is not because he envisaged the embarrassing capitulation at Eastlands, which brought back Halloween memories from derby day it was so bad, but because the game at City represented the last of a difficult run. And boy has it been difficult. It started on the second day of February when they started quite well at home to Chelsea and then lost to a superior team. Before they were then outclassed by Spurs, they folded at Stoke. Everton away was nearly as bad as Sunday's trip to City but they kept it down to two. Any heart gained from the goalless draw at Arsenal was extinguished by a Liverpool side who for once hit their stride on their travels. Relegation form: Sunderland were thrashed 5-0 at Manchester City last weekend and are sliding down the table Bruce made no secret of his desire just to get through this period. He knew, at this stage of the season, and with so many interruptions, that his squad was facing its toughest test in his reign. That so many were injured at the start, and still finding their feet and match fitness even now, has not helped his cause. It must be virtually impossible for him to know his best side at the moment. He knew getting results would be difficult, although must have reckoned he would be much better off than one point from 21 and no goals in four matches. He thought Sunderland would at least be playing well, but they are not. And that has to be the main worry as a shell-shocked squad prepare to entertain West Brom. Before Chelsea, some people on Wearside were really getting carried away and dreaming of Europe. This seven-match run has them seriously looking over their shoulders at teams like Saturday's visitors West Brom, who have been rolling their sleeves up for a relegation fight for months.   More from Colin Young... Northern Exposure: Forget finances... Newcastle must simply avoid the drop31/03/11 Northern Exposure: Pardew problems are small fry compared with Sir Bobby's22/03/11 Northern Exposure: Forget Welbeck... Sunderland fans will be keen to greet Carroll16/03/11 Northern Exposure: Kris Boyd sums up the disaster of Gordon Strachan's Middlesbrough reign08/03/11 Northern Exposure: Sunderland boss Bruce confident of bouncing back04/03/11 Northern Exposure: How being Given's understudy made Harper stronger23/02/11 Northern Exposure: Ignore Quinn's last orders at your peril16/02/11 Northern Exposure: Newcastle's Plan D... ?35m Carroll to journeyman Finn11/02/11 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE  After that it is Birmingham away, Wigan and Fulham at home, Bolton away, Wolves for the final home game and a trip to West Ham for the season finale. Once pencilled in as all winnable, suddenly they all start to look very difficult. Only Bolton are not fighting for Barclays Premier League survival. Sunderland are also looking up at Newcastle, for the first time of real note, a fact which has not been lost on any Geordie. And it would be a major achievement for Alan Pardew's squad to maintain that position until the end of the season. It is a parochial concern, of course, but it's a pretty big one. And it will be a driving force for Bruce, and a message he will be keen to put across to the players who might not understand its significance. Steering clear of that relegation fight, and getting the wins, particularly at home, is the first priority. And Bruce needs all the help he can get. That starts with the players. It has not helped their manager, nor chairman Niall Quinn, that Sunderland's malaise has coincided with Darren Bent's exit and the gamble not to sign a full-scale replacement in January. Bruce went down the route of signing Stephane Sessgenon and Sulley Muntari, good players, but yet to be on a winning team in six and it is difficult to remember what they have actually contributed. He did have the reassurance of knowing Danny Welbeck and Fraizer Campbell would be fit by now, to bring goals, as well as the solid dependency of Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole. But they need to be close to top form and hit the ground running with match fitness. Who knows whether so much league inactivity in March was a blessing. Since he took over, Quinn has pleaded for the supporters to come back to the levels he remembers as a player, and for the disillusioned to bury their grievances of any previous regime, management or board.  He needs their backsides back in hisseats. The Liverpool game was a sell-out - but like in front of so manyof the Stadium of Light's big crowds the game ended in disappointment.And the games against less attractive opposition only seem to enticethe regulars, although not enough of them to prevent the pubs of theregion filling with Sunderland supporters, Quinn argues. Fright night: The Black Cats' capitulation brought back bad memories of the defeat to Newcastle on Halloween Pessimism comes naturally to them, with good reason, but Sunderland fans do have their part to play in ensuring all the good work in 2010 - which is keeping their heads above the parapet now - is not totally ruined. The emphatic win over Wolves has allowed Newcastle and their fans to enjoy this week, and I know from the evidence of my own friends on both sides of the divide how much the phone networks have been buzzing with texts. But then it's like that every week, to be fair. Who knows who will be sending the best insults on May 22. This week Newcastle have gone ahead, and put that Mackem talk of Europe into perspective. It was the performance and commitment against Wolves which was so impressive, and the message from the dressing room is clear. Survival is their absolute priority, and has been for a year. It's not over. Aston Villa and Darren Bent on Sunday will not be straight-forward, and that's followed by Manchester United's Tuesday night visit to St James's Park. Newcastle have already shown they are up for the fight, however. Can Sunderland?  Onuoha hopes to end City spell and make permanent Sunderland switchBruce fears as Sunderland slip closer to Premier League relegation scrapSunderland boss Bruce eyes Spurs target Gameiro to revitalise Black CatsAll the latest Sunderland AFC news, features and opinionAll the latest Newcastle United FC news, features and opinion


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