THE grimness of Steve Bruce’s post-match demeanour showed full well that he grasped the gravity of the situation that he and Sunderland now find themselves in.
While 38 points and 12th in the Premier League table at this stage of the season is hardly cause for concern, their alarming lack of form – one point from the last 21, culminating in yesterday’s 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City – most certainly is.
Sunderland have hit their worst patch of form at arguably the worst moment of the season, being drawn to the fringes of a relegation battle they are mentally unprepared for.
And yesterday’s Manchester mauling laid bare a host of problems their manager must tackle if the final seven games of the season are to produce anything lie the morale-boosting end to the campaign he hopes for.
Reflecting on a disastrous day at Eastlands, Bruce agreed that the word “brutal” would not be an over-exaggeration of Sunderland’s match-day experience.
“That’s not a bad word for it,” he sighed. “It was a brutal game from start to finish.
“We were second best from the moment the game kicked off and we got exactly what we deserved, which was nothing.
“We got our backsides well and truly kicked and I’m not going to try making excuses for it because, on the day, we had maybe two or three who played OK and, as for the rest, they just weren’t good enough.
“We have prided ourselves over the last couple of seasons in giving the biggest teams a game, but, on this occasion, we just didn’t.
“When you come to Eastlands, you have to play well and we certainly didn’t do that.”
Bruce was not prepared to accept that 38 points should put Sunderland in a position where they are likely to stay up regardless – even in such a congested bottom half of the table. The Black Cats are six points clear of the drop zone.
“I don’t agree with that,” he said. “In my opinion, we certainly don’t have enough points in the bag.”
“We have been on a horrific run.
“We have played most of the top six in that run, but we’ve got the bottom six now and Bolton in the games remaining, so it’s up to us to turn it around.
“This time, we’ve just found the games against the top teams a bit too much for us.
“Against City, we were nowhere near good enough.
“We need to get stronger and sharper. We’ve lost our cutting edge a little and we haven’t helped ourselves in games with the way we’ve played.
“But it’s my job, and the players’ job, to put it right in this all-important run-in and that’s what I’m sure we’ll do.”