Beach ball derailed us both, claims Bruce
IT has been deemed the freak goal which started the decline of Liverpool's campaign, but Steve Bruce last night insisted Darren Bent's beach ball winner in October has also ruined his first season in charge of Sunderland. Bent's fifth-minute shot beat goalkeeper Pepe Reina and proved the difference between the two teams after deflecting off a large Liverpoolcrested inflatable. It had been thrown on the Stadium of Light pitch by a visiting supporter. It is an incident that will live long in the memory and the ball in question stands on display at the National Football Museum ahead of the return fixture between the two clubs at Anfield tomorrow afternoon. Liverpool had not lost since the opening day of the season until that trip to Wearside, but they have since struggled to find such a purple patch of form, with many predicting Rafael Benitez will lose his job in the summer. But while Liverpool, who have given up on winning the Premier League title, face an anxious wait to see if they can claw back a four-point gap to the fourth and final Champions League spot currently occupied by Tottenham, Sunderland have also encountered problems. From the moment the final whistle blew on that October afternoon, Sunderland struggled to recapture the sort of form that had pushed them into contention for a topseven finish. Their only win in the 18 league fixtures after that arrived against Arsenal in November and only in the last few weeks has Bruce finally been able to see some daylight between his team and bottom three. It's in the skip and we have packed it for the trip, joked Bruce of the beach ball. I think all of our luck was saved for that game. We have not had the luck we needed after that. We lost player after player, decision after decision. Things went against us but the game will always be remembered for the beach ball incident. It started with the Lee Cattermole injury and there was a catalogue of problems after it, with sendings-offs, bookings, injuries. We had all of our luck used up in that game, but thankfully it is easing now. It was a bizarre moment. The win wasn't a fluke. The fluke was the goal, it got the headlines and it will do for years to come. But it was the manner of the performance that pleased me. I'm sure there will be a few beach balls at Anfield, we are taking a few ourselves. The focus might be on the number of beach balls that supporters attempt to carry into Anfield, but all eyes are also likely to be centred on Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones. He has trained for the last few days after recovering from a hip problem and is expected to play some part against the club he thought he might have signed for during the January transfer window. Bruce is still disgusted at the way Benitez spoke publicly about his interest in taking the Trinidad & Tobago international on loan for the rest of the season, which should make interesting viewing when the two managers cross paths for the first time. Rafa Benitez must have been given the information from somewhere and I would have thought he would have had the decency to have done the honourable thing and ring me if there was any interest, said Bruce. I have not spoken to Rafa since January and I didn't speak to him in January either. I thought I might have done but no, I haven't. Undoubtedly Jones was affected by the constant suggestions that Liverpool wanted to sign him, but Bruce has been satisfied with the player's contribution since the window closed. I have said repeatedly that I never intended to sell Kenwyne Jones. Unless a club like Liverpool comes in with £15m then we all know the situation, said Bruce. I have never genuinely wanted to sell him. I want to build a squad here and you don't do that by selling your better players. We have seen the best spell under me from Kenwyne. He has been playing the way he can and that's all I wanted from him. He has all the attributes to be a top player. I sat down with him twice and told him that I wouldn't let him go on loan. If there was a bid I told him I would tell him. The transfer window closed and went away and he has hit the best part of his own season, he is back to his best.
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