STEVE Bruce admits this has been the toughest season of his football career, but is already to come back all guns blazing.
Bruce’s Sunderland spent the first half of the campaign consistently occupying the European placings. But an horrendous run of injuries, and the inability of those who escaped to rise above it, means Sunderland are the lowest-placed club certain of being in next season’s Premier League.
Little wonder, then, that Bruce is counting down the days to his holiday.
“I need a break,” he said. “It’s been the toughest, the hardest three months I have been involved in since starting out 30-odd years ago – as a player as well. It’s been frustrating, disappointing.
“Even when we won at Bolton (two weeks ago) we lost (Anton) Ferdinand and (Sulley) Muntari (to injury). It’s been one of those horror times. It’s been gruelling and you’re trying to look for explanations.
“We have been questioning medical people, doctors, surgeons, sports scientists, you question everything. We have to accept that two or three are them are not a given for next season either – (Craig) Gordon, (Michael) Turner, (Fraizer) Campbell, (David) Meyler. It’s not finished yet.”
Bruce has been personally criticised for Sunderland’s second half of the season.
“It’s chalk and cheese to look at where we were and where we are now,” he said. “That’s personnel. I’m not Houdini. In the Premier League, if you have not got your big players fit then you are screwed.
“There is a big summer ahead for us. We are much better now, but this year is a big year for us again now because I would never have thought we would need eight or nine (new players) come the summer. Sir Alex (Ferguson) has been on record saying he needs three players (at Manchester United) and they’ve just won the league. Fantastic!”
Bruce also believes the spotlight is intensified in the North East.
“Every team in the Premier League has a run,” he said. “(Birmingham City manager) Alex McLeish has had a run, but he won the Carling Cup, that’s the way it is. It’s the North East. There is a huge expectation up here. But I don’t regret anything.”