By Ryan Fleming
It can be hard to swallow, but the exit of Darren Bent has directly led to the downfall of Sunderland. Digest it fully, because it’s true. When Bent, an England international, was shipped to Aston Villa for 15m, manager Steve Bruce maintained that the team would trudge on without it’s best player.
Nothing that Sunderland has done backs up what the one time Manchester United star has said, and the most recent 3-0 loss to Fulham at the Stadium of Light further exemplifies the utter struggles that the team inherited.
In the team’s most recent loss, Bruce relied heavily on Stéphane Sessègnon up front to provide the needed attack while Asamoah Gyan, Danny Welbeck and Frazier Campbell sat out due to injury. The almost-forced experiment was a complete failure.
Sessègnon wandered up front, seemingly in no man’s land, waiting for help while a gang of Fulham defenders swarmed the Benin international almost immediately. The Black Cats’ midfield was outplayed and it’s defense overrun. Bruce should have sent up a flare, signaling for help because if it wasn’t for a strong start to the season, he could be looking for another job while his team was looking down at the prospect of playing in the Championship next season
“The resilience we had three months ago is certainly lacking,” Bruce said to The Guardian. “There are issues we have to address. But we’ve got to bite the bullet and fight the flak which will be flying our way again.”
Bruce’s situation borderlines on impossible, but can certainly be labeled as a difficult chore. Before Sunderland were stricken down with injuries, Bruce unwisely relied on a young Campbell, Gyan and Welbeck, who is on loan from Manchester United. If Sunderland somehow find a way to not entirely implode, and maintain its position in the Premier League, Bruce has been quoted saying that he wants to sign another seven or eight players when all along, the most important player that he should have held on to was Bent.
For a team whose best players are all currently at Sunderland on loan, Bruce has a lot of work to do. He has brought in 19 new faces in 18 months, a drastic amount of a short period of time — certainly crushing the chance of developing team chemistry. Bruce has a solid keeper in Simon Mignolet and has an emerging Philip Bardsley, a flexible Ahmed Al-Muhammadi and a solid Michael Turner protecting the Belgian keeper. Priority No. 1 for Bruce when the window opens would be to find another centre back since Nedum Onuoha will return to Manchester City at the close of the season.
The capture of on-loan Sulley Muntari from Inter is now certainly a no-go, with the club finding the price of the Ghanaian midfielder too steep.
“There is no chance at Sunderland for Sulley,” agent Fabien Piveteau told soccernet.com. “They have decided he is too expensive.”
Just another gap in the road for Bruce and chairman Niall Quinn. This time surely, Bruce will have to make his own bridge of find himself plummeting out of the Stadium of Light.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.