Bruce hopes his players can handle the occasion
WITH the memory of the St James' Park crushing still in his mind, Steve Bruce last night insisted he will know whether his Sunderland players are up for the 143rd Wear-Tyne derby within the first ten minutes of it starting tomorrow. Bruce still struggles to believe the manner in which his first match at Newcastle United as the Black Cats boss ended in such a disaster on October 31, when the Magpies cruised to a 5-1 win. Sunderland were second best all over the pitch for the vast majority of the afternoon and, although it took 26 minutes for Kevin Nolan to open the scoring, Bruce feared a home win much earlier. He will be looking out for similar signs tomorrow, after preparing his players all week for an occasion in which he hopes many members of his young team are better equipped to handle the atmosphere. Bruce singled out Jordan Henderson during his prematch press briefing as an example, but he was also quick to suggest nearly all of his squad froze at St James' Park on Halloween. The Sunderland boss said: I remember in the Newcastle game Jordan Henderson made his first run forward and when he was trying to get back it was like he was pulling a caravan. That was in the first ten minutes, which was just the occasion, and that is what can happen. It gets to you, you get edgy and nervy and before you know it the game has gone. Hopefully we can gain the experience from it and it will help the young players. You all know Jordan, he can run up and down like the wind. I just remember him trying to get back and thinking Jesus'. I looked at Elmohamady and Danny Welbeck, a few of them. To be fair we only had one player on the day and that was Phil Bardsley. I know for a fact we will be better, because we can't be any worse. Bruce was quite happy to talk about individuals because he was more than happy to admit he encountered similar situations during his playing days. Using his own personal experiences, the 50-year-old hopes he can help to ensure his players will not freeze in the same manner as they did at Newcastle, and as he did in his FA Cup semi-final with Oldham in 1990. Jordan and the like went through a similar thing to what I went through, said the former Manchester United captain. In my first FA Cup semi-final, it was at Maine Road, and we were playing Oldham. It was boiling hot. Before the game Crystal Palace had beaten Liverpool so we had a wonderful chance that if we got past Oldham we could win it. It was baking I remember. I just remember being absolutely hopeless. I looked round next to me and shouted at Gary Pallister: You'd better be on your guard here because there is something not happening with me today'. He was worse, he was away with it too. It was 3-3 in the end and we were hopeless defensively. The game was a blur. I couldn't get my breath, I couldn't run properly and couldn'tconcentrate. I couldn't take a touch on the ball. The whole thing got to me and I was 30-years-old. I played for Man United for the best part of four years but with it being so close to the cup final, this, that and the other, it just affected me. The replay on the Wednesday was not a problem. One of the reasons for Sunderland freezing in the way they did on Tyneside could, arguably, be put down to the fact they have been fielding the youngest team in the Premier League this season. That has been a conscious decision by Bruce, who wanted to introduce more energy into the way Sunderland played. It does, though, bring certain risks. I know for a fact the one thing about a young team is you will get performances like that and it certainly happened at the wrong place at the wrong time, said Bruce. We will be much better for it because we can't be any worse. It is three points but if we go and win it we will be in a fantastic position. I am looking ahead and I am looking at Blackpool after that. Then we go into a break where we hope to have five or six injured players back, which will give us real tilt at where we want to be at the end of the season. Since losing at Newcastle, Sunderland have lost just three of their Premier League fixtures form which has lifted them to within three points of a Champions League spot. Bruce said: There was a turning point. Possibly Stoke the first game after not Chelsea, was the most important. Then we went to Tottenham on the Wednesday and got a result there too. The response from the team was terrific and in the ten, 11 and then 12 games since then the response has been terrific. We've got something like 20 points, which is a great return for us and we needed to do that.
Related Sunderland News