STEVE Bruce has criticised his Sunderland players for a lack of bravery as he slammed his side for playing aimless long-ball football during a tedious goalless draw with Fulham.
Bruce admits he is finding it difficult having to say the same things after another game without a win, as he once again argued it is the pressure of expectation on Wearside which is his biggest obstacle to overcome.
Sunderland were dreadful against the Cottagers, despite making a bright start to the contest, and did not deserve to snatch a victory which Fraizer Campbell could have sealed when he fired over with just two minutes left.
Bruce said: “I can’t say a lot about that, we need a little break, we need to handle the expectation. Unfortunately we didn’t do that. Defensively I thought we were very sound, but offensively we weren’t.
“It takes a different type of courage to take the ball and play. We didn’t handle the ball well enough.
“We resorted to lumping it up the pitch. We had the best chances in the game. I can’t remember our goalkeeper having a save to make, but we didn’t get it down to pass and play, and my teams have never resorted to lumping it up the pitch. That’s what we resorted to and when you aren’t set up to play like that it becomes a frustration.
“The crowd were magnificent on a horrible Sunday afternoon, but we’ve got to give them something to shout about.
“You’re paid to handle these situations and at the moment we’ve got too many not playing well enough.
“Expectation goes with the territory up here and at the moment we are not handling it well enough.” The draw was enough to keep Sunderland three points clear of the relegation zone, but they have one of the worst form guides in the division and do not play Bolton until Tuesday next week, by which time their position could be a lot worse in the table.
Bruce continued: “I think we’ve drawn six of the last seven games, the frustration is not turning any of them into wins. It is not easy coming out and saying the same thing every week.
“When you’re up against it, as we are, you batten down the hatches, keep believing you’re doing the right things and you will get out of it. Possibly some of them are trying too hard. It’s a concern that we have to get up the table. Win next week and it might be the point that takes us a couple places up the table.
“We’ve got to stick together, not shy away from it, and if we do that I’m still sure we’ll be okay.
“I’m the manager, the buck stops with me, I’ve brought five or six to them to the club and it’s my job to protect them if I can.
“Of course it’s my responsibility and it hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure.
“I’m not going to shy away from it. I’ve always known it was going to be difficult. Maybe the start we had led us up a path we weren’t ready for. “I’ve been decent at the job in the past and I’m sure I can still do it.”
Bruce also defended midfielder Lee Cattermole, who has failed to match the level of performance he showed before a serious knee injury led to more than two months on the sidelines.
He said: “Cattermole is 100 per cent fit, but he has had a serious knee injury. He is only 21 and missed three months. He is working as hard as anyone can, but is finding it a bit of a struggle at the moment.
“He was the driving force of this team two or three months ago, but however long you’ve been out, I’m a firm believer it takes you that long to get back. He’ll learn from it, that’s for sure.”