STEVE Bruce has challenged his players to bounce back from derby defeat by going on the same sort of morale-boosting run they did when they lost to their closest rivals last year.
After their 5-1 humiliation at St James’s Park last October, the Black Cats turned their campaign around by going on a surge up the table – the centrepiece of that improvement being the stunning 3-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
And Bruce knows a similar sort of run will be needed if the gloom which engulfed the Stadium of Light on Saturday, after a 1-0 loss to Newcastle, is to show any sign of lifting.
“We’ll get flak for the defeat and I accept that,” he said. “It’s the derby and I know how important it is to our fans, how much it hurts to lose it.
“There’ll be some fans who probably will never forgive me for the 5-1 defeat last season and that goes double now for this weekend’s result.
“But I’ve got to look beyond that and we’ll just have to try and win the fans over again by bouncing back straight away and showing exactly what we’re capable of as a squad of players.”
Bruce tried to analyse the game rationally and draw out the fact that, for much of the game, Sunderland played the better and more positive football.
“When you look back on a match initially. you tend only remember that final 10 or 15 minutes that period of the game where we were frustrated and changing and ultimately went down to 10 men,” he argued.
“But I think there was only one team in it first half and that was us.
“We just needed to pick the final pass and have that chance fall our way, but, unfortunately, we failed to do that.
“I didn’t see the Larsson penalty appeal in real time, but I don’t think the referee or the fourth official did either.
“If we have got away with one, then we have got away with one, but it doesn’t really feel that way sitting here after the match.”
Watching the game unfold, Bruce admitted he was worried that Sunderland might pay the price for not being able to make their pressure count.
“You can’t dominate a game at this level for 90 minutes and we needed to make the most of it when we were on top all that time,” he added.
“We didn’t do that though, they got a goal – which was disappointingly conceded as far as we were concerned – and then the last half-hour was typical derby stuff, which suited Newcastle because they were ahead and looking to make the game scrappy.”