Steve Bruce has warned Sunderland their Premier League season will be ruined if they do not find a cure for their away-day blues.
The Black Cats have enjoyed superb form at the Stadium of Light, where they have dropped just five of the 21 points they have contested to date – three of them to Premier league leaders Chelsea – and beaten Liverpool and Arsenal.
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However, only three sides – Burnley, Blackburn and Hull – have worse away records than Bruce’s men, who have claimed just four points on the road, the same as bottom side Portsmouth and one less than Wolves.
That is a record which is going to have to change markedly for Sunderland to fulfil their ambition of making a real impression in the top flight, starting with Sunday’s trip to Fulham.
Bruce said: “If we don’t improve, it will ruin our season, that’s for sure.
“If we had just done averagely, another four points would have taken us up into fifth or sixth and, going into Christmas, that would be far, far healthier.
“But that’s why the Premier League week in and week out is so tough and so demanding. If you are not quite at it, you are not 100% at it, you will be beaten.
“It doesn’t matter where you go to, there are teams who can beat you in this league.
“But if you look from us down in the Premier League, there are not many teams who have won more than one or two games either.
“We have got to get a few results, it’s as simple as that, to take the monkey off our back a little bit.”
The stark contrast between his side’s form at home and away has left Bruce scratching his head, and he was stunned by their poor showing at Wigan last weekend when they lost 1-0 to a team which had been trounced 9-1 five days.
He said: “It’s got to be a mentality, of course it is, and it is one thing we have got to try to change if we can.
“We have got to have a better mentality away from home to be more difficult to beat.”
Bruce will hope to have striker Kenwyne Jones available to partner leading scorer Darren Bent at Craven Cottage after he suffered a dead leg on his midweek return to action for the reserves following a three-match ban.
He will not, however, have Ghana international defender John Mensah at his disposal with a back-related calf problem as he looks for greater resilience in defence against a Fulham side which has taken major strides under Roy Hodgson in recent seasons.
Bruce said: “He [Hodgson] has had a wonderful couple of years, but you don’t manage big clubs like he has and be a national manager if you are not good at what you do.
“I don’t think anybody could have done a better job than he has done down at Fulham. It’s been an unbelievable couple of years for the fella.
“He has got together a very, very decent team, especially at home. At home, they are a handful, their record suggests that, so we know what to expect.”
Bruce has huge respect for his opposite number and, asked if he will be shaking hands with Hodgson in the wake of this week’s spat between Arsene Wenger and Mark Hughes, he replied with a smile: “Absolutely. If he doesn’t, I’ll shake his neck.”