Bruce eyeing upward momentum
By the time the final whistle sounds in Monday night's home clash with Everton, the Black Cats will have faced every one of last season's top 10 inside their opening 14 games. To date, they have lost to none of them with victories over Chelsea and Manchester City and draws with Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham representing the highlights. But with Wolves, West Ham, Fulham and Bolton waiting in the wings after the Everton game, Sunderland have an opportunity to develop a solid start into a very promising one indeed. Bruce said: "We are a quarter of the way in and I have not known anything like it. We have got four or five games now which, for me, can define our season. "We have got something like five games in two weeks over Christmas and we have got teams who, on paper, you think we have got an outstanding chance against. "But this Premier League takes some beating. Every team has good players and Everton are no different. "We must make sure we try to follow up the win at Chelsea. Can we take eight to 10 points from those five games and keep us where we want to be? "That period will define the season and what we can achieve." The Black Cats will head into their latest test having restored the balance of their season with a return of seven points from a possible nine against Stoke, Tottenham and, in remarkable fashion, Chelsea, since their derby nightmare at Newcastle. They have lost only two league games all season and while seven draws have demonstrated how difficult they are to beat, two of their four wins this season have come in the last three games. That is a statistic upon which Bruce is keen to improve, although he knows that will be no easy task against David Moyes' Everton outfit. He said: "I'm a huge admirer of Everton. They are a fantastic team and they will take some beating. "We must make sure we keep our performance like we did last week. "They are the epitome of their manager - hard-working, they don't give anything up - they are a very, very good side. "They have got some smashing individual players in Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta - the list is endless. "It will be a difficult game, no question." Bruce has been without leading scorer Darren Bent for the last three games, but he has now recovered from his hamstring injury and is back in contention, although record signing Asamoah Gyan's four goals in his absence and Danny Welbeck's recent contributions mean there will be no overwhelming need to rush him back.