STEVE BRUCE will have to ask Sunderland owner Ellis Short for a major cash injection this summer in order to drive his faltering squad forward.
The Black Cats boss started the year agreeing with chairman Niall Quinn that the club was reaching the stage where it would only be looking for two or three quality signings every transfer window from now on.
Both men believed that squad strength was approaching what would be expected of a top 10 Premier League side.
But a winter of discontent with the squad wrecked by injuries and the defection of Darren Bent has led to such a major slump that Bruce recognises the squad is likely to need a major overhaul this summer.
“I might need as many as six or seven players in the summer,” he said. “And that would include two, maybe three strikers. It’s just the way things have worked out unfortunately.
“When we started the year, we had two top-class strikers in Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan. We had Fraizer Campbell – who we rate as an absolute top prospect – set to come back in the March, and we were hopeful of maybe re-signing Danny Welbeck for next season.
“It was looking fine in that department.
“Now we’ve got no Bent, Fraizer’s out for at least a year and Danny’s future is still very up in the air.
“Potentially we’ve got only one striker at the club (Gyan), and you can’t go on like that. So we are going to have to look at buying in at least a couple of strikers and probably even a third.”
Bruce also knows the resolution of the future of the five loan signings is likely to leave big gaps.
“We always knew that the loan players would go back to their clubs, with the exception of Ahmed Elmohamady, who will be staying. That’s four first team players we’re potentially losing.
“So there’s a lot of work to do to strengthen the squad because that’s not even considering the rest of the injuries we’ve had.”
As well as the loss of Bent, injury to Campbell and the possible loss of the four loan signings – Welbeck, John Mensah, Sulley Muntari and Nedum Onuoha – Bruce is also without number one goalkeeper Craig Gordon for the next six months, and David Meyler is also a long way from fully recovering from a second cruciate ligament injury.
Bruce believes the freakish number of injuries has exposed the lack of strength in depth in the squad and been the major cause of a slump which has seen just four points taken from the last 30 – transforming Sunderland from Europa League contenders to relegation battlers over a dispiriting three months.
Bruce will now hope to strengthen in all departments if the momentum of the last few seasons is to be maintained.
That would mean club owner Ellis Short is likely to be asked to put his hand in his pocket again, although chairman Quinn has said on more than one occasion that the club cannot continually go cap in hand to the owner.
“It’s not as straightforward as it once seemed it would be,” admitted Bruce. “Things can change so quickly in football.
“But at some point soon I will sit down with the owner and with the chairman Niall Quinn and make plans for the summer and see who we can bring in.”