NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Steve Bruce's Sunderland jigsaw takes shape

03 September 2009 12:19
Welcome to Sportsmail Online's weekly column - Northern Exposure. The Daily Mail's North-East football reporter, Colin Young (right), will provide expert analysis and a behind-the-scenes insight into the affairs of a footballing heartland. Don't miss it .

 Questions at Sunderland, relief (sort of) at Newcastle, frustration at Middlesbrough.

Transfer deadline day passes in the North East and the three bigger clubs now know their squads for the next four months.

Of course Newcastle and Middlesbrough can still secure loan deals, but neither club made cash signings to help sustain their impressive starts to life in the Championship. 

Shy and reserved: Michael Turner (L) battles with Jermain Defoe

And Sunderland could still decide to add free agent Lucas Neill, although given the time already wasted to fruitless negotiations surrounding the Australia captain's substantial wages at West Ham, perhaps the time has gone to complete a deal.

It will be revived only if club and player recognise they need each other after all.

Bruce took his spending to almost £40million with the purchase of Michael Turner, a central defender observers of his previous club Hull City have identified as a future England international.

Frequently last season, during our chats for his Sportsmail column 'to Hull and Back', former Tigers striker Dean Windass sang the praises of the quietly-spoken Londoner he had first encountered at Brentford.

    More from Colin Young. Richard Dunne hits out at 'back-stabber' Cook over £6m City exit03/09/09 Blackburn midfielder Keith Andrews glad to silence the doubters at Ewood Park02/09/09 Stoke City 1 Sunderland 0: Pulis in no rush for big change at Britannia30/08/09 Sunderland to swoop for £7m-rated Lyon star Mensah once visa granted27/08/09 Hartlepool 1 Burnley 2: Fletcher at the double to see Clarets through25/08/09 NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Newcastle turmoil to get worse before it gets better25/08/09 NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Football is back and even Chris is smiling.18/08/09 The hat-trick for Sir Bobby Robson: Shola Ameobi impresses Barry Moat16/08/09 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE`Deano' made his life a misery that day. `He told me he hated playing against me,' said Windass. `Because I never shut up.'

Turner doesn't do talking. Even when he's out he is shy and reserved. As far as he is considered, when he plays football, he plays to stop strikers.

And he does the same task whether he's marking Manchester United and England's Wayne Rooney or the Darlington assistant manager.

He barely made a mistake last season, and was unaffected by the calibre of opponent. And the bigger the name, the harder they fell under his marking.

Fabio Capello sent his scouts, and Phil Brown was contacted to inform him Turner was being considered for international duties.

Liverpool came calling first in the summer, and then Tottenham. But when Brown and his chairman Paul Duffen slapped a £12m price tag on their prized asset, both backed off.

Frustrated by the demands of Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin, and their clubs, Steve Bruce decided to follow up his initial inquiry six weeks ago with a firm bid.

Bruce, perhaps recognising his own no-nonsense defending in the 25-year-old has had plenty of time to assess the many defenders he has inherited from Roy Keane and judging by his many signings in that department, it is safe to say he has been far from impressed.

Turner has the right mentality, and is the right age. His recent performances indicate he has been affected by the transfer talk, and perhaps even the added responsibility of captaining the side in the absence of Ian Ashbee and George Boateng didn't really suit him.

No reward: Danny Collins has been sold despite consistent performances over the last two seasons

But all that is behind him now and Sunderland's very generous new owner Ellis Short has once again showed unstinting support for Bruce and Niall Quinn to fund a deal which could eventually match Hull's valuation.

Brown's problem is that his final day replacement, Ibrahima Sonko, is no Michael Turner but the loan from Stoke gives the Hull boss time to work out how to spend his investment wisely, while hoping his departure does not have a profound impact.

If Bruce and his staff develop Turner as well as they anticipate, he remains an England player in the making and a solid part of Bruce's expensive jigsaw, but far from the final piece.

The Sunderland manager has every intention of wheeling and dealing again if players continue to slip under the standards he has set.

Very few Sunderland supporters would disagree with the players he has sold, although some emotional attachments will sway the assessment of Grant Leadbitter's exit.

Few tears will be shed for Teemu Tainio, Carlos Edwards, Dean Whitehead and Paul McShane who will all benefit from a change of surroundings.

The big surprise is that David Healy and Daryl Murphy remain on the staff, but that could change with loan deals to the Championship where they can thrive again. And don't rule out a move to Middlesbrough.

Fortunate to survive the cull: Anton Ferdinand (L) and Nyron Nosworthy (R)

The one sale Sunderland supporters are rightly questioning is that of Danny Collins whose reward for five unblemished seasons and the last two club player of the season awards is a permanent return to the Britannia Stadium, where he sat on the bench for Saturday's defeat to his new club while Anton Ferdinand and Nyron Nosworthy made a mess of defending Craig Gordon's goal from bombardment.

Like Whitehead he will be hoping to emulate Rory Delap, Danny Higginbotham and Liam Lawrence who have made a good living out of proving their former club were wrong to sell them.

Collins was devastated at the rejection, but Bruce is unrepentant and determined to build a Sunderland side which is known for its muscle.

With Lyon's defender John Mensah joining Turner, presumably Bruce felt the need to reduce his defensive recruits and balance the books but Collins seems an easy target and the wrong one.

Will score goals: Peter Lovenkrands

Ferdinand and Nosworthy are fortunate to survive the on-going cull of Keane's squad. But maybe Bruce knew no one would be daft enough to buy them. His demands now will be the making or breaking of them.

For depressing reasons which do not need to be repeated, Newcastle's hands were tied yesterday, but the big relief for the supporters is that they are not tied to the extent that more players were allowed to leave.

What is blatantly obvious is that Newcastle need players and now. Peter Lovenkrands was above average last season and he did score three goals.

His pace will certainly terrify Championship defenders and although he is erratic, he will add to that tally. But he is not enough.

Somehow Chris Hughton has guided his players to the top of the league, a position which looked completely out of reach after the pre-season thrashing at Leyton Orient.

The galvanising affect of the club's turmoils is admirable but the wins cannot be sustained with the back-up players at Hughton's disposal for Monday's win over Leicester City.

Deadlines have been set and missed for months but the most important one was transfer deadline day. Another opportunity missed.

The club sale cannot come quickly enough,  but how long have we been saying that?

Middlesbrough slipped from top spot after defeat at Bristol City where they conceded their first league goals of the season while Robert Huth, the man largely responsible for their clean sheets, sat on the bench at Stoke, alongside fellow Boro evacuee Tuncay Sanli.

Boro have been facing up to the reality that the pair would leave, and £10 million is a good deal, but Huth in particular will be sorely missed. 

Selection battle: Chris Riggott (R) and Emanuel Pogatetz (L)

How much depends on Chris Riggott and Emanuel Pogatetz who will fight for the right to partner David Wheater.

Keeping Wheater and fellow Boro lad Adam Johnson is as good as new signings for Southgate, and the pair have made impressive starts to the campaign, thriving on the challenge to restore their club to the top flight.

The £2.5m offer for Rob Hulse showed Middlesbrough meant business, but after Derby stubbornly refuse to sell, their decision not to panic buy is a wise one.

Southgate now has time to let the closure of the window settle and take his pick of strikers willing to move to the Riverside on loan.

Alternatively, if he's really desperate, he could still turn to Afonso Alves.

One thing is certain, that Middlesbrough are not finished dealing yet. And Newcastle fans will be hoping for the same. 

 Explore more:People:Roy Keane, Daryl Murphy, David Healy, Robert Huth, Danny Higginbotham, Adam Johnson, Liam Lawrence, Craig Gordon, Dean Whitehead, George Boateng, Jermain Defoe, Lucas Neill, Paul Duffen, Dean Windass, Michael Turner, Sylvain Distin, Steve Bruce, Richard Dunne, Wayne Rooney, Paul McShane, David Wheater, Carlos Edwards, Phil Brown, Fabio Capello, Danny CollinsPlaces:Newcastle, Liverpool, Lyon, United Kingdom, Australia

Source: Daily_Mail