A furious Steve Bruce admitted he had never known a side as inconsistent as his after watching slow-starting Sunderland again succumb to travel sickness at Fulham.
Sunderland lost for the sixth time in eight away games in West London as they singularly failed to cope with the physical presence of Fulham’s Bobby Zamora. The burly striker headed the only goal of the game inside the first ten minutes as Sunderland conspired to reprise their dreadful first half performance at Wigan. They rallied in the second period but Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones missed decent chances to rescue a point for Bruce’s stuttering side.
It all left the Sunderland manager sounding like a broken record as for the second time in a week he warned his players that wholesale changes would be made if they didn’t begin to turn around their horrendous away form.
“I’ve never known a side be as ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ as we are at the moment, and it’s pretty alarming, especially away from home,” he said.
“I’ll have to do something about it because it’s a really serious worry. We’ve had thousands of people come here again, just like we had at Wigan, and the first half was exactly the same story as last weekend.
“We’re just not doing enough, and we’re certainly not doing the nitty-gritty that you have to do to compete in the Premier League.
“We’re okay at home, but we can’t keep relying on that home form. We’ll have to address what’s happening away and do something about it.
“You’ve seen the two sides of Sunderland, and that’s the frustration with what we’ve got at the moment. When we’re good, we’re good, but when we’re up against it a little bit, we don’t do enough.
“The goal sums it up. It was just a long punt into our box really, but we allowed them a free header from seven yards without even attempting a challenge. It was poor stuff.”
Although they improved in the second period, Sunderland were always facing an uphill struggle after a poor first period. And Bruce acknowledged that Sunderland’s poor start was the reason for their defeat.
“We produced a response in the second half, but the first half in particular was
simply not good enough,” he said. “We have a right to be disappointed. We’re going to have to do something away from home because we need to get this monkey off our back.
“But if you perform like we did in the first half in particular, you’re never going to win a game in the Premier League, it’s as simple as that.
“The second half was much, much better, and if we’d had that approach in the first half, I’m pretty sure we’d have taken something out of the game.
“Whatever was said in the dressing room should stay there, but there were a few words said, that’s for sure.”
With Sunderland continuing to struggle to assert themselves, thoughts inevitably turn to the return of Lee Cattermole to strengthen the Black Cats’ midfield.
Although Bruce is keen not to pin-point Cattermole’s return as the solution to their problems, he admits his return in a fortnight won’t come a minute too soon. “I think it shows how much we miss Lee, but I’m not going to use his injury as an excuse,” he said.
“He’s been very influential, especially away from home where, because of the competitor he is, he gives you that bit of steel and edge you need.
“We’ve certainly missed him and his absence has been a huge blow, but it’s not an adequate excuse. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, we’ll have him back.”