MICK McCARTHY has stoked up the pressure already mounting on Steve Bruce, by claiming Sunday’s Premier League showdown between their respective clubs “couldn’t be any bigger”.
The former Sunderland boss (pictured left) is desperate for victory, with Wolves 17th in the table after just three wins in 13 league games this season. But though his side are 16th, Bruce’s position is even more precarious.
The Black Cats have won only three games at the Stadium of Light during 2011, claiming 21 points from the last 81 available.
And Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to then-bottom club Wigan Athletic sparked an unprecedented outburst of abuse – much of it personal – aimed at Bruce by a significant section of supporters.
Having made clear his refusal to panic in the weekend’s matchday programme, owner-chairman Ellis Short has been true to his word.
The American billionaire has announced himself “unhappy” with Sunderland’s league position before witnessing the loss to Wigan from the directors’ box.
But his understated approach to running the club means a knee-jerk reaction to Saturday’s events was never likely.
Instead, he seems certain to hand Bruce at least two games – Sunday’s and Blackburn Rovers’
visit seven days later – to save his job. And combined with Wolves’ need for three points, that has added even greater importance to the televised clash at Molineux.
“I don’t think it could be any bigger,” said McCarthy, whose side lost 3-0 at Chelsea on Saturday.
“The Sunderland game was always going to be huge. If this (defeat at Stamford Bridge) is going to make it any bigger than so be it.
“What’s the point in looking beyond that? We’ve got Manchester United away the week afterwards. (But) let’s deal with Sunderland.”
How Short deals with them remains to be seen, with the American – and former chairman Niall Quinn – expected to meet with Bruce in the next 48 hours.
Reports have claimed Martin O’Neill and Mark Hughes could be in line to replace the 50-year-old, but others crediting Sunderland with interest in Manchester United winger Robbie Brady, Galatasaray’s ex-Liverpool winger Albert Riera and Brest striker Nolan Roux suggest scrutiny of Bruce – from boardroom and among fans – has not suspended planning for January.
Certainly, two of Sunderland’s most popular former stars – Michael Gray and Kevin Phillips – believe the manager should be given time to turn things around, and have condemned supporters for the abuse aimed at Bruce.
“I hope Bruce doesn’t walk away,” Gray said.
“We all know when things aren’t going well your confidence takes a massive hit and it’s hard to get yourself out of it. And that’s where they are at the moment.
“It’s really cut-throat in the Premier League, but I hope Steve is given time. I thought the abuse at the weekend was a bit overboard.
“You pay your money and you can have a go but, when it goes too far, that’s when you have to question yourself as a supporter because it’s your team. People have to be patient and give Bruce a chance.”
And referring to the abuse meted out by fans, Phillips added: “I think that’s bang out of order.
“I listened to Micky Gray say the supporters should have a look at themselves and I agree with that.
“There is no need for it. It certainly doesn’t help when Newcastle up the road are doing so well but that’s no excuse.
“I hope that Steve gets a bit more time but we all know once the fans turn on you it’s a very difficult situation.
“They’ve got such an important game on Sunday. It’s a game that they need to win – simple as that. If they don’t win, then the board have got a massive decision to make.”
:: RYAN NOBLE continued to press his claims to solve Sunderland’s goalscoring problems with a five-minute hat-trick in the reserve’s 7-0 Tote Cup win over Scunthorpe United.
But second-string boss Keith Bertschin played down the 20-year-old’s contribution, instead hailing the performances of several first-team stars, and insisting their displays helped lay Noble’s goals on a plate.
A midfield comprising Craig Gardner, David Vaughan, David Meyler and James McClean ensured the Black Cats were always in control at the Academy of Light yesterday.
They led at half-time courtesy of a brace from McClean, and were 4-0 by the hour-mark thanks to a double from Ji Dong-Won. Noble struck in the 82nd, 84th and 86th minutes.
“It was a good performance, especially from the senior players who showed why they are senior players,” Bertschin told the club’s website, safc.com. “To a man, the players out a great shift in and it was a great team performance.”