Sunday 21 January 2018

Fans turn against Bruce as winless run goes on


James Mellor

AFTER more than a decade in management, Steve Bruce insists he’s developed the toughened exterior of a rhinoceros.

Such was the vitriol aimed in his direction from his own supporters after a 14th Premier League game without a victory, the Sunderland manager must wonder if there is anywhere left to go in terms zoological/dermatological metaphors required to deal with the increasing scrutiny his future is now subject to.

A share of the spoils from a contest which, if anything, was even more of a non-contest than the tepid stalemate here with Stoke earlier in February, re-establishes their three-point cushion from the relegation places. That, however, is where the positives come to an abrupt halt.

“What can I say about that? If I’m honest, not a lot,” Bruce admitted. “We just need a break but we were edgy, we didn’t handle the ball well enough and resorted to lumping it up the pitch.”

The fixture computer is clearly doing its best to help extricate Sunderland from a predicament they find themselves in courtesy of a threemonth winless streak, with this the first of four consecutive home games, starting against a Fulham side without a Premier League away victory since the opening day of the season and with legs wearied by a draining return trip to the Ukraine in the Europa League.

Even with such advantages flung their way, Sunderland never remotely looked like recording their first three-point return since 21 November, and had an unmarked Bobby Zamora not made a hash of a clear early header from an inviting Simon Davies centre, the post-match abuse aimed the way of Bruce would have been even more lacerating.

The Sunderland squad had almost fallen over themselves during the week to pledge their backing for their beleaguered manager, but their unconvincing actions spoke far louder than any of their words.

With Brede Hangeland again commanding at the back for the visitors, the few openings Sunderland created were at best half-chances, as Kenwyne Jones fired over from Darren Bent’s knock-down, while Mark Schwarzer shovelled away Bent’s 20-yard freekick, before smothering a low Alan Hutton effort at the second attempt.

John Mensah, the injury-prone defender who again succumbed to his ailing body, was among the few of those clad in red and white to emerge with credit, while Bolo Zenden injected a modicum of urgency following his second-half introduction, finding the side-netting with a cheeky cross-shot, before sending a low centre across the penalty area, which just begged to find a touch. The out-of-touch Fraizer Campbell summed up Sunderland’s afternoon three minutes from the end, firing over from Hutton’s cross.

“I keep expecting us to hit the wall,” Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager conceded after his side’s 44th game of a season now into its ninth month. “This is where Sunderland take their points and I was concerned that if ever a game was going to take its toll then it would be this, so I’m delighted.” After a chastening January, Fulham were unbeaten last month, winning five of their eight games. Hodgson added: “I wish February would last for ever.”

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Hutton, Turner, Mensah (McCartney, 84), Ferdinand; Campbell, Cana, Cattermole (Zenden, 54), Richardson; Bent, Jones (Benjani, 80). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Bardsley, Kilgallon, Da Silva.

Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Shorey; Davies, Murphy(Greening, 58), Etuhu, Duff; Gera, Zamora (Elm, 84). Substitutes not used: Zuberbühler (gk), Kelly, Okaka, Riise, Smalling.

Referee: M Atkinson (Yorkshire).

Booked: Sunderland Turner, Hutton, Richardson; Fulham Baird, Murphy, Zamora.

Man of the match: Mensah.

Attendance: 40,192.

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