THE GUS bus ground to a halt in the Algarve on Saturday night.
An electrical fault on the Sunderland team coach prevented the Black Cats making a swift getaway following their dire stalemate against Vitoria Setubal and a fleet of taxis had to be swiftly commandeered.
As Sunderland’s players stood waiting outside the Albufeira Stadium, an impromptu signing session took place while the scores of Wearside’s merrier men sharply created the chant of “Gus’ bus has broke”.
It must have felt like that for Gus Poyet during much of Sunderland’s stay in Portugal.
The delay in further additions to Sunderland’s squad has kept Poyet’s plans grounded.
The wait for Sunderland’s pre-season take-off has gone on, and on, and on, while the mood among supporters has grown increasingly fractious.
All those hopes at the end of last season about having players on board early in the summer, to shape and mould into a new team had gone up in smoke.
Poyet’s mood on the Algarve was dark.
The unprompted, thinly-veiled calls for Lee Congerton to get a move on early last week spoke volumes and inevitably ramped up the heat on Sunderland’s sporting director.
But the Uruguayan was a transformed character on Saturday night.
Poyet could barely keep the smile from his face, as he revealed Sunderland were on the verge of several breakthroughs in the transfer market.
Suddenly, those pleas for four new signings by this Wednesday didn’t seem so fanciful.
Crucially, the fresh faces include a boost to Sunderland’s goal threat which has been so noticeably meagre during pre-season so far.
While the Black Cats are in need of extra strength in depth defensively, it is the additions to their attacking potency which will decide whether they can improve on last season’s nerve-shredder.
Sunderland barely created a thing against Setubal.
Adam Johnson went close early in the second half when he chested down Steven Fletcher’s knock-down and unleashed a well-struck half-volley from 25 yards which just cleared the crossbar.
The lively Johnson should then have been awarded a blatant penalty when he was clipped as he slalomed into the area on the diagonal.
But, worryingly, against an average Portugese top-flight side, that was pretty much it.
As in their previous encounter in Portugal against CD Nacional, Sunderland kept possession effectively in their approach play and looked to slip in full-backs Patrick van Aanholt and Charis Mavrias when they rampaged forward.
Van Aanholt, in particular, should be a real threat this season with his lightning pace. The Dutch international is always looking for the possibility of a short sharp one-two to get in behind the opposition full-back.
Despite being used at right-back, Mavrias has been bright too and is clearly developing. The Greek deserves a chance to show what he can do in his natural position on the wing.
Yet it is in that final pass in those positions in or around the penalty area where Sunderland are lacking.
It is not necessarily a problem with the strikers. It is a problem with creation.
If Sunderland can finalise a deal for Fabio Borini that will clearly help proceedings in offering an extra predatory presence.
It will give Sunderland a front three all perfectly capable of reaching double figures for the season.
But those extra midfield positions alongside Lee Cattermole or Liam Bridcutt may be the real key.
Emanuele Giaccherini plays some sublime diagonal balls to the flanks when he is used in the “number 10” slot.
Yet the problem for the Italian international remains one of physicality.
Three times in the opening seven minutes, Giaccherini was either brushed off the ball or was out-muscled to it.
That’s in the softly-softly style of Continental football too, not the rough and tumble of the Premier League.
New signing Jordi Gomez can realistically only play in that role behind the striker too.
The Spaniard is not a player capable of going box-to-box or bombing into the area to pounce on a rebound. That’s not his game.
Gomez’s goals are principally going to come from distance.
Sunderland need the box-to-box midfielder that Poyet is after, to go alongside Seb Larsson in the Uruguayan’s options.
Poyet will hope that the imminent transfers will be over the line before Thursday and he can deploy the fresh faces in the friendly against Real Betis.
The clash with the Spanish Second Division side certainly can’t be much duller than the one against Setubal.
While Sunderland struggled to create chances, so too did Setubal.
Their only genuine one came early in the first half when right-back Quieros skinned makeshift left winger Connor Wickham on the right-hand side of the area and then unleashed a shot cross-cum-shot which was blocked before ricocheting around the area.
Quieros then pounced on the loose ball and struck a powerful right-footed shot towards the far corner from eight yards out which was brilliantly blocked by the outstretched right leg of Costel Pantilimon.
As the game wore on, both sides became increasingly limited to long-range pot-shots.
The hundreds of boisterous Sunderland fans present were forced to make their own entertainment.
“If anyone scores, we’re on the pitch” and “let’s pretend we scored a goal” they chanted.
Now that Sunderland have overcome those early pre-season hurdles of cardio work and minutes on the pitch, supporters need to be cheering some goals for real.
VITORIA SETUBAL: Ricardo Baptista, Venancio, Joao, Paulo Tavares, Giovani, Miguel Pedro, Marcos, Quieros, Dani, Ney, Ziquinha. Booked: Pelkas (75)
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Mavrias, O’Shea, Roberge, van Aanholt, Bridcutt, Gomez, Giaccherini (Ba 76), Johnson, Wickham, Fletcher (N’Diaye 59). Subs not used: Cattermole, Brown, Dixon.