Bruce under pressure
HE might preside over a team that has gone ten matches without a Premier League win ahead of this afternoon's home game with Wigan Athletic, but Steve Bruce insists he retains the full support of Sunderland owner Ellis Short. Despite assuming complete control of the Black Cats more than a year ago, Short remains a distant and mysterious figure, with his short and long-term ambitions for the club almost impossible to discern. As a result, it is hard to predict the American's reaction to Sunderland's current barren run, although the hasty break-up of his relationship with former manager Roy Keane suggests he is not afraid to act when things are not going to plan. That description certainly befits a Sunderland side that have not won in the league since they edged out Arsenal on November 21, but having spoken to Short as recently as Wednesday, Bruce insists his American employer remains as committed to his ongoing rebuilding project as ever. Niall (Quinn) is the link man, but I speak to the owner, said the Sunderland boss. I spoke to the owner on Wednesday, and I have to say he was very supportive. He wants the club to do well. He might not be right at the forefront, but he's as committed as anyone. He's been a successful businessman all his life so he wants whatever he's involved with to go well, and his track record proves they usually do. He's put in a vast amount of money let's be fair to the fella, a huge amount of money and hopefully that will get us where we want to be. I respect him because we don't see or hear very much from him. He lets other people get on with their job and manage their own job as they see fit. He lets me manage the team. Of course, I'll have conversations with him to see what his plans are, and that's normal. That's how our relationship works, and that's the way I like it. I'm sure he's aware of everything that's happened to us this season, but I'm also sure he won't have enjoyed watching his team not win in ten games. The latest of those matches came on Monday, with large sections of the Stadium of Light crowd booing their players from the pitch following a goalless bore draw with Stoke City. The result left Sunderland just three points clear of the relegation zone once Hull drew with Chelsea 24 hours later, and heaped further pressure on today's game, a match that precedes back-to-back away games at Portsmouth and Arsenal. The Black Cats' post-Christmas form has been wretched, but an injury list that briefly contained more than ten senior players was clearly a factor. Provided there is no repeat of that in the second half of the season, Bruce is confident his side will avoid a protracted battle against the drop. If everybody gets fit, and we don't have eight or ten injuries, we'll be okay, he said. I'm absolutely convinced about that, but there's a lot of work to be done and I won't shy away from that. We have to remember that we're only two years out of the Championship. The club has been in the bottom five and just survived twice. I knew the challenge of what I was getting into. I thought long and hard about it because I knew it was going to happen. I knew the North-East is not an easy ride, but I wanted to come and have a crack at it. I've not regretted it one minute, and just because we're on a bad run at the moment, it won't make me shy away from the challenge ahead. It's an horrific run, we all know that. No win in ten isn't good enough, and we all know what the consequences could be. But I'm confident that, given time, we'll be okay. In particular, Bruce is looking forward to being able to name an unchanged back four, something he will be unable to do again this afternoon as Alan Hutton comes in to replace the injured John Mensah. The main problem has been pretty obvious, he said. We've had 15 different back fours. We've scored goals and created chances, but we've never been able to keep a clean sheet. Defensively, we've been all over the place at times. I still have that Chelsea game etched in my mind every time Chelsea got the ball, I thought they were going to score. We simply couldn't cope when we had big players missing. But when people like (Michael) Turner, (Lee) Cattermole and Mensah are playing, we're a different team. In the summer, I strengthened the spine of the side, and we struggled when that was taken away from us.
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