Is Bruce feeling the pressure?
WITH more than 40,000 fans expected at the Stadium of Light tomorrow, Steve Bruce last night insisted he does not worry about the growing pressure from the stands to turn things around after Sunderland's drop into a relegation fight. And rather than question any of the decisions which he has made in his first seven months on Wearside, Bruce hopes his first season in charge will be assessed in May. Sunderland sit three points clear of the bottom three, a gap which will be further reduced before they face Fulham tomorrow if either Burnley or Bolton win their respective home games today. But with four consecutive home matches with Fulham, Bolton, Manchester City and Birmingham pencilled in before the trip to Liverpool on March 28, Bruce is satisfied he will soon be managing a team looking up rather than down. Sections of Sunderland's supporters have started to question certain decisions made by Bruce, but he is unperturbed and is looking to get Sunderland's season back on track after a 13-match winless run in the Premier League. Criticism and opinions are part and parcel of being a manager and you've got to be able to handle that, he said. The spotlight here is on you more than some of the other clubs I've managed before. There was still a big expectation at Birmingham, it's a big city club and of course you're going to be questioned. What I've always said is judge me at the end of it and see where we are then and if we haven't been able to be good enough, I'll stand up and be counted, it's as simple as that. Sunderland's search for a league victory dating back to mid-November is the worst in the division, while last weekend's defeat at Arsenal meant they also boast the unwanted honour of sitting second from bottom in the form table. But while opinions are starting to change among supporters, Bruce remains confident he has the backing and support from the club's owner, Ellis Short, and chairman, Niall Quinn. I've had no pressure from within the club, only support, he said. Pressure gets piled on from outside, but I really don't feel that, not ever. I take the job on and the one thing that drives me is the fear of failure. I don't want to fail. I've waited for a long time to come to a club like this and I'll do my absolute damndest to make a success of it. It's not easy. I've spoken to many managers who've been here before me and they've said the same: it ain't easy to live with the expectation. We've got to get better at it, put that right, but that can only take time. We've got to have players who can handle the big crowd and the big expectation, because this place has got the mentality of a top-six team and we're nowhere near that just yet. Having been caught out in his selections at the Emirates Stadium last week, particularly with a lack of midfield options, Bruce will resist too many alterations. He will be looking at strengthening his defensive ranks again in the summer and he will not decide until then whether to extend John Mensah's stay at the club. Mensah's loan move from Lyon is unlikely to be turned into a permanent arrangement which the Ghana international would like unless the French champions lower their asking price before Sunderland's first refusal option expires on May 30. Bruce explained: If you look at John, his playing record is awful. We all know he is a fantastic footballer when he is fit, but he has a serious problem which we've diagnosed. We'll speak to Lyon when the time is right. It's like a Paul McGrath situation. He can't train at the level you want him to train and we have to be careful with him. He spends a lot of time on the bike and swimming. To solve his back problem, which is to do with the spinal canal, he needs an operation and it's 12 months out. Even after that, it isn't certain it will work.
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