Bruce: We might have been wrong to sell Bent
STEVE Bruce has admitted for the first time that Sunderland might have been wrong to sell leading goalscorer Darren Bent in January. Bruce was in defiant mood yesterday as he looked ahead to Saturday's crucial relegation showdown with Wigan Athletic, insisting that his relish for his role has not been diminished by the mounting criticism that has accompanied the Wearsiders' current nine-game winless run. The Black Cats boss remains confident that Sunderland will arrest their recent slide and claim a top-half finish in the top flight for only the third time in the last 50 years. However, with his side's form having nosedived since Bent's departure in the middle of January, Bruce has questioned whether he should have done more to prevent the departure of a player who scored 24 Premier League goals last season. Going into January we were in a fantastic position, but unfortunately it's drifted away from us, said the Sunderland manager. I believe that we'd have comfortably finished in the top ten if we hadn't had the problems we had in January and the injuries We were close. In hindsight, should we have held on to Bent and reacted in the same way as (Blackpool boss) Ian Holloway did with Charlie Adam Should we have said, 'Forget it' I don't know. Since Bent completed his £24m move to Villa Park, Sunderland have scored just nine goals in ten matches. Their cause has clearly not been helped by serious injuries to strikers Danny Welbeck, who is a doubt for Saturday's game with Wigan, and Fraizer Campbell, who is set to miss the majority of next season as well. Long-term injuries have been a problem all over the field Bruce will hold a major inquest into the club's training and medical procedures at the end of the campaign but the manager's own judgement has been called into question by a number of supporters, who have challenged both his team selection and the wisdom of some of his big-money buys. The Sunderland boss has been surprised by the voracity of much of the criticism, but insists it has not affected his determination to succeed at the Stadium of Light. The easiest thing would be for me to feel sorry for myself, he said. But I'm not going to let the last nine games derail me in any way I've got to accept the criticism that flies about. You believe some of it is unjust, but it is what it is. I won't shy away from it. Up until the end of January, we were in sixth place and flying I was the best thing since sliced bread. One point from nine games, and now I can't do my job I'm hopeless at this, hopeless at that and the management is inept. That's what it is managing here, but I wouldn't swap it. Bruce was braced for the peculiarities of managing in the North-East when he returned to the region two summers ago, but despite being raised in Tyne and Wear, the depth of expectation that surrounds Sunderland has taken him aback. Having led the likes of Wigan and Birmingham in the top-flight, the 50-year-old knows just how difficult it is to achieve anything of note with a club outside the established top six or seven. However, he feels the size of Sunderland's support, combined with the club's geographical location and the North-East's fanatical love of football, produces an expectancy that can be difficult to justify given the failures of the past. It is the most difficult job I've had because of the expectation, said Bruce. A Wigan, a Bolton or a Blackburn will accept 13th or 14th position because they know that's probably their limitations. Because of the vast support we have, and how geographically isolated we are, it's very different here. Different rules and expectations apply. It's almost like it's own principality. That's an issue, but it's also a huge attraction for all managers. What creates that expectation I think it's a combination of a lot of things that are unique to Sunderland and the North-East. What gives Sunderland a divine right to succeed when we've finished seventh in the Premier League twice in 50 years Where does the expectation come from Is it just because of the volume of support that we have Partly, and I also think we have a press that helps foster it. It does become very difficult.
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