Bruce targets top-half finish

For much of the season a place in the top half of the Premier

League table seemed a minimum aim for the Black Cats, with Europe a

distinct possibility, but a run of one point from nine games has

seem them plummet down the table. Defeat against Wigan on Saturday

would pull the Latics to within one point of Sunderland but instead

of looking down, Bruce is taking inspiration from last season, when

they ended a sequence of 14 league games without a win by thrashing

Bolton 4-0. The Black Cats followed that result by winning three of

their last five home games to finish 13th, and, although he has

been left stunned by their slump, Bruce insists there is no reason

why they cannot better that. The former Wigan boss said: “It’s

unbelievable what’s happened to us but it’s happened. Eight games

ago we were sixth, and we’d been sixth for six months. We’ve got to

live with it and deal with it and get on with it. “Every team’s

probably had a bad run at some point and it’s our turn. Last year

we were on an awful run, we ended up winning a couple of games and

got our season back on track. Let’s hope we can do that with two

home games coming up. “It feels different because of the position

we put ourselves in. I know the reasons for what’s happened to us.

I’ve tried to explain the reasons but you can’t make that as an

excuse. “I still think if we can win on Saturday then we’ve got an

outstanding chance of finishing in the top 10. It would only be the

third time in 55 years if we did it so, for me, we’re still on

course.” Sunderland face bottom two Wolves and West Ham in the

final two games of the season meaning it is imperative for Bruce to

engineer the one victory that would surely be enough to ensure

Premier League survival as quickly as possible. He said: “Forty one

points could be enough but we’re just disappointed that we find

ourselves in this situation. We are in it and we have to dust

ourselves down and see if we can get out of it as quickly as we got

into it. “It’s never easy when you’re on a run like this and the

injuries we’ve got but I know we’re capable of producing a big

performance and let’s hope that’s on Saturday.” Injuries have

certainly been Sunderland’s Achilles heel this season and there was

more bad news this week with both goalkeeper Craig Gordon and

striker Fraizer Campbell undergoing knee operations. Gordon is

expected to be out for up to six months and Campbell for as long as

12, and Bruce let his frustration show as he discussed the cause of

Sunderland’s poor form. “I’ve tried to tell everybody what’s gone

wrong and I know for a fact what’s gone wrong but nobody seems to

listen and nobody gives a jot,” he said. “We’ve had too many

missing and we’ve had another two operations this week. I feel like

a long-playing record.” Bruce, a boyhood Newcastle fan, has been

feeling the heat from Sunderland’s supporters and he is desperately

hoping Saturday is the moment when the pressure lifts. He added:

“It’s a big game, you need big characters and you need to show a

bit of heart and a bit of bottle and give the supporters something

to shout about. I’m positive that the players can do that and

finish the season off with a flourish.”