Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Bruce aims to continue Sunderland's home form

Steve Bruce wants the Sunderland supporters to ensure the Stadium of Light remains a "fortress" as they attempt to maintain their impressive home form - but insists beach balls are an optional extra.

The Black Cats are aiming for their fifth consecutive home win in the Barclays Premier League when West Ham visit Wearside tomorrow afternoon.

Bruce's side have lost just once in the league at the Stadium of Light - a 3-1 defeat by Chelsea in their first home game - and since then have produced an impressive string of results, culminating in the recent well-deserved 1-0 victory over Liverpool in which Darren Bent's winning goal deflected off a Reds beach ball.

Last weekend's loss at Birmingham baffled Bruce but the Sunderland boss, whose side lost on penalties to Aston Villa in the Carling Cup in midweek, admits he has been delighted with the performances on home turf.

He said: "Our home form has been good apart from Chelsea and in my mind we didn't lose to Villa, so effectively Chelsea are the only team that have come here and beaten us going into November.

"That's a far healthier start than it was last year so we must keep that home form going. The crowd can play their part."

Bruce, who took over from Ricky Sbragia in the summer after the Black Cats narrowly escaped relegation, added: "We had to change the home form because last year it was appalling, we didn't win anywhere near enough games and that's why you struggle.

"So it was important that the Stadium of Light became a bit of a fortress, if you like.

"It's a good return so far and I hope the next five or six are going to be exactly the same.

"If they want to bring beach balls, as long as they bring their voices and their rattles (as well) then fantastic!"

Bruce is a huge admirer of West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola and knows only too well the difficulty of working under a club hierarchy in turmoil.

He left Birmingham due to complications which arose when Carson Yeung first showed his interest in buying the club while Zola is currently working in similarly complicated conditions.

"We really want people like Gianfranco Zola to succeed," said Bruce.

"He was a great player and he's got a difficult job at the minute with this constant speculation about takeovers. It can't be easy in your first job.

"It's difficult enough to manage in the Premier League, let alone it be your first job and having all those problems to deal with.

"But as usual he is as dignified as ever. He was a great player and I wish him the best of luck after tomorrow.

"If there is turmoil above you then it is very difficult to control and manage. The one thing a football club needs is stability at the top level. I've said that repeatedly.

"If that boardroom is stable, secure and well managed, the manager finds it far easier. If there is turmoil above you then, believe me, it is very, very difficult even for the most experienced managers."

Bruce will give striker Darren Bent every chance to be fit for the match having returned to training following a minor knee complaint.

Fellow striker Fraizer Campbell is a doubt after suffering a knock against Villa while Phil Bardsley (shoulder) and George McCartney (hip) are also touch and go.

Midfielder Bolo Zenden and centre-back John Mensah are ruled out while Lee Cattermole is a long-term absentee with knee ligament damage.

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