Bruce demands a response in ‘‘biggest game’’ for Cats

12 December 2009 10:04
IT'S unlikely to be the opening feature on tonight's Match of The Day, but Steve Bruce nevertheless maintains that this afternoon's home game with Portsmouth is Sunderland's biggest match of the season.

The Black Cats go into today's encounter with the Premier League's basement boys on the back of successive away defeats to Wigan and Fulham.

The defeats, which are part of a wider run of just one win in six matches, plunged Sunderland down to tenth in the table and undermined much of the good work carried out by Bruce's side in the early weeks of the season.

With today's game preceding Tuesday night's home match with Aston Villa, the Black Cats have an ideal opportunity to repair the damage.

But after six days of soulsearching in the wake of Sunday's capitulation at Craven Cottage, Bruce admits Sunderland's season is at something of a crossroads.

I think this is our biggest game so far, said the Black Cats boss, who is hoping fullback George McCartney will pass a fitness test in order to take his place in a patched-up back four.

We've let ourselves down, but enough has been said about the away form. We've had inquest upon inquest - now we have to get out on the pitch and do something about it.

We've shot ourselves in the foot in the last two games, and there's no getting away from that. We got ourselves into a wonderful position after we beat Arsenal and, no disrespect to Wigan, Fulham, Portsmouth and Villa, but we had a run of games there that could really have kick-started our season.

Unfortunately, we haven't capitalised on that. We've put ourselves under pressure, and we're in a position where I want a response.

Having criticised his team's application in their 1-0 defeat at Wigan, Bruce was understandably furious after his players produced an even more ineffective display in the first half of last weekend's defeat at Fulham.

The Black Cats appeared lethargic as they conceded a soft opening goal to Bobby Zamora, and things did not improve until Bruce delivered a heated half-time team-talk.

Dressing room dressingdowns have hit the headlines this week after Stoke boss Tony Pulis was allegedly involved in a physical altercation with striker James Beattie and QPR boss Jim Magilton was suspended from his position after an alleged clash with Akos Buzsaky.

When Bruce was a player, physical clashes were common, but the details never emerged from the dressing room. Today, in a world of social networks and instant messaging, managers have to be much more careful about how they administer discipline.

That's one of the biggest things that's changed about football, he said. In the past, it never used to get out of the dressing room. The manager would get hold of you and there would be a fight every other week. We used to fight each other all the time.

But now, with the media spotlight and things like Twitter, it spreads like wildfire. So you have to try and strike a balance.

I've been cool in the last day or so because we have a game coming up, but I haven't been for the last week or so.

I've been totally disappointed to be honest with you, but that's gone now and it's up to us to do something about it.

The motivation of millionaire footballers remains a hot topic however, with Sunderland supporters questioning the hunger and desire of a number of the club's players, most notably striker Kenwyne Jones.

Bruce has been quick to defend Jones, claiming his laidback persona makes him an easy target for criticism, but the Black Cats boss admits it is not always easy to stimulate players who are earning far more money than he is.

Financially, you can't really hurt players any more, he said. That's the biggest difficulty, as every Premier League manager will tell you.

Motivating them can become difficult.

But all I'd say is that, when it comes to the really great players, it doesn't make any difference. They'd still be the same if they were playing for a penny, and that's what determines the great player from the average Premier League player.

With the likes of Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Cesc Fabregas, it doesn't matter what you're paying them.

When it comes to a Saturday, they just want to be the best player on the pitch.

That's the attitude the big players have - it's the ones who aren't quite as good that cause you problems. You get trouble from average players - the really top ones don't trouble you at all.

Source: Northern_Echo