Bruce warns of drop threat
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has warned his players they are firmly engaged in a battle for Barclays Premier League survival as they enter the final seven games of the season.
The Black Cats head into Saturday's clash with West Brom scarcely able to believe they have slipped to the fringes of the relegation battle after amassing 37 points from their first 24 league fixtures. However, a run of six defeats in their last seven games and a return of a solitary point has left them in 12th place and just six points clear of the drop zone.
Asked if he considers the club to be in a relegation fight, Bruce said: "Yes. We would be naive if we didn't think we are not in there now. But I don't want to talk about it, I would rather think if we win on Saturday, we could go seventh. That's how crazy it is, it's an unbelievable season in respect of that."
He added: "We have not talked about it at all. It's the first time in seven months we have been outside the top 10, and we have had a particularly difficult run.
"We have now got seven games left and all to play for, and the run of games we have got, hopefully we are capable of winning two or three of those.
"If we win two or three of those, then we are still on course for what we are trying to achieve."
For so much of the campaign, Sunderland were considered genuine contenders for European qualification, something they have never before achieved via the league.
A more circumspect Bruce has only ever talked about ending the campaign in the top half of the table, although having just missed out on that in his first season at the helm, he insists the club's recent history means not reaching that target would not necessarily represent failure.
He said: "I wouldn't say failure. If you look, we have only been in the top 10 twice in 50 years, so I don't know if it would be a failure, but it has been the aim.
"That has been my job, to try to get us into the top 10. That has been my remit and we are still on course at the minute. But we are finding it very, very tough."