Black Cats boss happy with his lot
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce will head into the heat of his first Tyne-Wear derby battle quietly satisfied with his lot. Bruce's reign at the Stadium of Light to date has brought steady improvement to a club desperate to shed its yo-yo tag and establish itself as one with genuine potential. The signs are that they are getting there. Saturday's 1-0 victory over Aston Villa was hard-fought but just about deserved as the Black Cats eased themselves into seventh place in the Premier League table. There were several significant statistics: it was just their second league win of the season and one which extended their unbeaten run in the competition to seven games; it was their first league victory without a Darren Bent strike in 14 months, and it was secured by the eighth own goal of Richard Dunne's Premier League career. But for Bruce, it was evidence that his planning and hard work on the training pitch is paying dividends. He said: "Going into the game, it was the first time we have been unbeaten in six in something like 10 years, so they can take a special pat on the back for that. "They have played very, very well without getting the results, but you keep ticking the points along and you see how tight it is. Everybody else finds it difficult too. "We are creating enough chances, we are playing good football, we are a threat to teams, as we have proved. We have just got to convert a few." Sunderland are undoubtedly difficult to beat - they have lost only once in the league, at promoted West Brom on August 21 - and conceded just eight goals in nine outings to date, none of them in their last three. However, a run of five successive draws, albeit from a fixture list which included clashes with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, was starting to become a concern. In that context, victory over Villa was much-needed, and the fact Bruce's men have played better in recent weeks and not won mattered little to most of a crowd of 41,506. The visitors started brightly and went close within three minutes when Stewart Downing struck the foot of the post, and Nigel Reo-Coker was convinced he should have had a penalty after he went down with Lee Cattermole and Titus Bramble in hot pursuit. However, it was Sunderland who went ahead with 25 minutes gone when Dunne attempted to steer Steed Malbranque's cross out for a corner, but instead succeeded in turning it past Brad Friedel and into the bottom corner. Bruce has repeatedly pleaded with his players to help out Bent on the goals front - he has scored seven of their 11 goals to date this season, with Asamoah Gyan and own goals accounting for a further two each. However, despite his keenness to answer his manager's call, Malbranque did not have the temerity to try to claim the winner. He said: "No. I got the ball and tried to put in the best cross I could, and fortunately for us, the ball ended up in the net. "I have been very close to scoring in the last few games, but I need to keep working and try very hard to score some goals for the team."
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