Steve Bruce would have taken Sunderland‘s start to the season if he had been offered it in August, but he knows it could have been much better.
The Black Cats head into Sunday’s trip to Fulham sitting eighth in the Premier League table on 20 points having turned the Stadium of Light back into the fortress it was at the height of the Peter Reid era.
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However, they will run out at Craven Cottage having collected a paltry four points from their seven away games on the road to date, and Bruce knows that is a statistic which is going to have to change markedly if they are to progress.
He said: “If somebody had said to me, ‘You are going into December, Steve, and you are sitting eighth with 20 points’, I think I would have taken that.
“The sad thing for me is all the good work we have done against the top teams should be a bonus.
“That should be a bonus of six, seven points on top of your bread and butter, the teams you are up against and you are competing against.
“Especially away from home, we have let ourselves down. But this is the vital part of the season.
“You have six games in a month – it seems ridiculous. We have been going four months and we have played 14 games and then all of a sudden, we have got six games in a month.
“We are in good shape. We hope we can get the injured ones back – in particular Kenwyne Jones, and Lee Cattermole is not far away – and we can have a good run from now until January.”
Home wins over Liverpool and Arsenal have created genuine optimism on Wearside, although some of that has been dissipated by defeats at Stoke, Burnley, Birmingham, Tottenham and Wigan.
Sunderland have not collected all three points on the road since they went to Bolton on the opening day of the season – indeed, they have won only once in the last 17 league games on their travels – and are desperate to bring an end to that run.
If they are to do so on Sunday, they may have to rely once again on leading scorer Darren Bent.
The former Tottenham striker has nine goals to his name for the season, and although he could be partnered by Kenwyne Jones provided he shakes off a dead leg after completing a three-match ban, Bruce knows they cannot rely on the Â£10million man every week.
He said: “We certainly can’t rely on just Darren. Kenwyne coming back into the squad can only help us.
“We have to improve on that through the team. We can’t keep relying on Darren to score to win a game.”