Bruce seeks further improvement

01 August 2011 07:44
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is desperate not to reach the end of another season wondering what might have been.

The 50-year-old's first campaign in charge at the Stadium of Light saw the Black Cats finish a satisfactory 13th in the Barclays Premier League, and last season ended with the club having crept into 10th on the final day to achieve their target.

However, on both occasions Bruce was left to reflect upon mid-season slumps which prevented his side from securing even better returns.

Two seasons ago, they went a demoralising 14 league games without a victory between the end of November and early March, while last term a run of nine games - which admittedly included clashes with Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City - from the start of February proved similarly damaging.

There were mitigating factors, particularly as injuries decimated Bruce's squad last season, and he insists that the good work which had gone before should not be forgotten.

Bruce said: "Everybody talks about the second half of last season. It was eight or nine games we had, but it was spread over three months, unfortunately. We played four games in about two months.

"We had a horrible spell against the top six and we didn't perform well enough. For the vast majority of it, for 75, 80% of it, we looked a very good team.

"We have got to try to get off to a good start again, but we know how difficult the Premier League is.

"We finished 10th last year, can we improve? That's going to be a big question mark and a big answer too, but I am convinced that we can.

"That's my job, to keep improving us and, looking at what we have got, I am very excited."

Bruce succeeded Ricky Sbragia during the summer of 2009, six months after the Scot had replaced Roy Keane, the man who dragged the Wearside club back into the top flight at the end of the 2006-07 campaign.

He was charged with stabilising Sunderland in the top flight after they had previously found themselves embroiled in a promotion-relegation cycle.

As they prepare for their fifth successive year in the Premier League, that aspect of his remit appears to have been fulfilled.

Bruce said: "The one thing we had to address when we walked through the door here was to stop Sunderland being a yo-yo club.

"Too often, you are having to start again. You get up for a season, you go down, you get up, and you can never get any momentum going.

"Now we are going into our fifth season, which in itself for Sunderland when you look over its history, is a step in the right direction.

"We are making progress in that we are not going to be one of these yo-yo clubs who have been up and down."

The club's progression has been gradual and methodical, but there is a sense as they near the big kick-off once again that a significant step has been taken.

Bruce's squad last season included five loan signings, only one of whom - Ahmed Elmohamady - has to date completed a permanent deal.

With Jordan Henderson and Bolo Zenden leaving and Cristian Riveros out on loan, owner Ellis Short and chairman Niall Quinn have sanctioned nine permanent signings - Elmohamady, Bosman free transfers Keiren Westwood, Sebastian Larsson and David Vaughan, and Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Craig Gardner, Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won.

Bruce said: "We needed to do that. We knew we had a busy summer ahead, but I have to say I am delighted with what we have been able to bring in.

"We have brought in a bit of youth and a bit of experience at the back as well, which I am sure will stand us in good stead."

Wickham's youth and potential could make even his £8million initial fee a bargain, but it is the addition of the know-how and winning mentality in the shape of former Manchester United duo Brown and O'Shea which Bruce believes could prove invaluable.

He said: "Once you get people like that through the door, then that opens the door wider in future.

"If I can attract people who have played all those games and won Champions Leagues, then it makes my job a little bit easier."

Source: Team_Talk