Chris Young’s column: A change of tune may help Bruce be better received

Hull boss Steve Bruce, in his days as Sunderland manager

Hull boss Steve Bruce, in his days as Sunderland manager

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A PENNY for the thoughts of Steve Bruce on Sunday afternoon.

Bruce has fallen out of love with both Sunderland and Newcastle – albeit for starkly contrasting reasons – yet will surely not have begrudged his former employers an opportunity to at least make their survival battle competitive.

But Bruce would also have been crying “typical” that Hull will be the side facing the derby bounce.

And most of all, the 52-year-old will have cast envious eyes on proceedings.

In one attempt, Gus Poyet – like Paolo Di Canio before him – put down a marker in Wearside immortality by steering Sunderland to victory over the Magpies.

That was something Bruce had strained every sinew to achieve, but could never do.

The desperation to prove those black and white roots were gone forever was a monkey on Bruce’s back in the derbies.

It was one reason why Sunderland choked in the 5-1 Halloween horror. Bruce was so nervous about the consequences of the encounter that it transmitted to his players.

That defeat and the 1-0 loss at the start of the 2011-12 campaign were low points which Bruce could ultimately never overcome.

But, putting his derby record aside, does the former Sunderland manager now merit a more favourable reaction, almost two years after Ellis Short wielded the axe?

Bruce didn’t help his popularity ratings by his PR campaign either before or after he was dismissed.

In the weeks leading up to that fateful final game against Wigan, Bruce had clumsily barged into a minefield by implying that fan expectations were not in proportion to reality.

But it was the rounds and rounds and rounds and rounds of interviews after he was sacked which really grated on the terraces.

It was always the same message: “They never took to me up there because I was a Geordie.”

It was nonsense of course.

While chants of “Fat Geordie *******, get out of our club” made Bruce’s position untenable in that vitriolic final game in charge against Wigan, it was only ever a bat to beat him with.

Results and poor signings were Bruce’s downfall, not that he could alienate potential employers by admitting that.

But forget Bruce’s ill-advised spin.

Look at the mess Poyet has inherited and compare it to those first two years of Bruce’s stewardship.

In Sunderland’s six-and-a-bit years in the Premier League, those were the only two campaigns where relegation has been a distant worry, albeit both seasons ended with a few jitters.

Bruce’s side fulfilled that lusty ambition of becoming a solid top-flight side, challenging for a spot in the top half, who were capable of beating the big boys on their day – Liverpool, Manchester City and an unforgettable 3-0 win at Chelsea.

Some quality was requisitioned by Bruce too.

There were duds in the transfer market, primarily the South American trio of Cristian Riveros, Paolo Da Silva and Marcos Angeleri.

But considering the money that has been squandered at this club during Ellis Short’s reign, Bruce was one of the few managers to get any value for money.

Darren Bent, Simon Mignolet and Stephane Sessegnon proved to be overwhelming successes, while free transfer Bolo Zenden and loanee Danny Welbeck were bargain basement arrivals.

Bruce also had the foresight to promote Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson into the first-team picture, with the £19million sale of the latter funding that final spending spree in the summer of 2011.

The failure of those 11 summer signings to make an immediate impact was to prove fatal.

There were already murmurings of discontent after a return of just one point from a possible 27 at the tail end of the previous campaign.

But Bruce at least had the mitigation of a crippling injury list for that slump.

The excuses ran out following the shortcomings of that supermarket sweep.

What had been a strike force of Bent, Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan became a lethargic Nicklas Bendtner along with rookie pair Connor Wickham and Ji Dong-won.

The loss of that impressive front three was not entirely by Bruce’s design though.

Sunderland’s hierarchy made the decision to sell Bent, rather than hand him a second pay rise in six months, while Welbeck was justifiably taken back to Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson.

And as for an overweight, disinterested Gyan, the Ghanaian had lost any hunger to make the grade in the Premier League and preferred to boost his bank balance in the Middle East.

Bruce doubted whether he would ever have such good strikers at his disposal again and that showed by his body language in the final months of his reign.

He looked like a beaten man, whose best-laid plans had been evaporated.

When Short relieved him of that burden, it was the right time and few shed any tears.

But think back to the final days of Peter Reid when there were similar levels of vitriol. Now the Scouser is remembered overwhelmingly favourably.

Perhaps once the memories of those “they hated me for my roots” interviews fade, views on Bruce will similarly soften.

ORDINARILY, a return of just two points from the last four meetings with Sunderland would have ramped up the heat on Alan Pardew to boiling point.

But the focus on the Newcastle boss has been diverted by another cack-handed decision from Mike Ashley.

Whether three Newcastle-based newspapers deserved to be banned for the sin of routine reporting is largely irrelevant.

It’s a far larger PR own goal to be heavy handed with the local newspapers – an act which has merited significant national attention – than the original story of a protest march from a few hundred disenchanted supporters.

Doing it in derby week only aggravated Ashley’s lopsided move.

Pardew has been given plenty of reasons to sigh at Ashley during almost three years at the helm, but on this occasion the Sports Direct magnate’s actions have been a blessing for him.

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