STEVE Bruce admits he heads into Sunday’s derby still trying to banish the memories of his darkest day in football.
Bruce could boast a proud record in derbies prior to Halloween’s 5-1 defeat at Newcastle United – his first taste of facing Sunderland’s arch-rivals as Black Cats boss.
He had never suffered derby woe during his playing days with either Manchester United or Norwich City, while he was unbeaten in his first six encounters against Aston Villa when Birmingham City manager.
But Bruce was sent to rock bottom by October’s thrashing at the hands of the Magpies and is desperate to put things right in Sunday’s reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light.
Bruce said: “I never lost a Manchester derby ever. I wasn’t playing in City’s famous 5-1 win in 1989.
“I never lost an East Anglian derby when I was playing.
“Managing, I didn’t lose in my first six against Villa.
“I’ve always done OK, but I remember going home after the defeat against Newcastle and there was chaos. Me, my son and my missus were in shock.
“There was a sickness in me.
“But when you’re up against it that’s when you earn your money.
“I’ll never forget it. Nothing can be anything worse than that.
“We’ll try to eradicate it but unless we win 5-1, it’ll still be there because I lost a derby 5-1.
“We’ll be reminded of the game all week and this is our chance to put it right.”
Bruce feels his young team were simply overawed at St James’s Park with many experiencing their first taste of a Wear-Tyne derby.
But the Sunderland boss believes it can happen to players at any age after struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of the occasion in his first FA Cup semi-final for Manchester United against Oldham in 1990.
“‘Bottled it’ is the wrong phrase, but I can understand people saying that,” said Bruce.
“I played in one of those in the FA Cup semi-final and the whole thing got to me.
“After 10 minutes, I couldn’t breathe and never felt comfortable in the game.
“With your head not right, your concentration goes and before you know it the game has bypassed you.
“The occasion got to me and I was 30 years old.”
Reflecting on the St James’s Park nightmare, Bruce added: “I think the young team which I had out at the time, and we were very young, a lot of them will learn from that.
“The young players who played on that occasion now know what a North East derby is. It will have stood them in good stead.
“Newcastle had more experience than us on the day and handled it better than we did.
“Of course, we made some elementary mistakes as well.
“It was a horrible experience, but I do think we’ll learn from it.
“It was possibly the most difficult experience I’ve had.
“But the one thing about management is it tests you when you’re up against it. You find out your true colours.”