Decision time for Sunderland owner Short

Ellis Short
Ellis Short
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AS Sunderland owner Ellis Short left a darkened Stadium of Light on Saturday night, he was approached by a sombre fan.

“Ellis, we’re not happy,” said the supporter.

“And do you think I am?” replied the American grimly, barely breaking step, as he made his way to the waiting transport.

Just a few hours earlier, the same fan could have read in Short’s first programme notes as chairman, a message urging supporters not to panic despite the underwhelming start to the campaign.

The owner has proven in the past that he is one to hold his nerve when the going gets tough and is unlikely to push the panic button prematurely.

But, perhaps pointedly, those same programme notes did not make a single mention of the manager.

Perhaps he did not want to be seen to be giving Steve Bruce the dreaded vote of confidence, having already privately assured him upon taking up the chairmanship from Niall Quinn that he would give the Tynesider his full backing.

Nevertheless, the lack of public support on the day of such an important game could easily be interpreted as curious.

Short, though, is mindful of the fact that Bruce has been forced to cut his cloth this season, according to the prevailing financial strictures.

If the manager had been able to operate under the same sort of financial freedom as predecessor Roy Keane, for example, Charles N’Zogbia would now be plying his trade on Sunderland’s left wing.

And while Bruce used the Jordan Henderson money over the summer, the Darren Bent transfer money remains unspent.

Though Short has been far from thrilled by the club’s progress this season, he’s aware that Bruce is operating under a budget.

Regardless of that though, the manager has been given £13million to strengthen his strikeforce with £8m Connor Wickham, £2m Ji or the £3m spent on loan signing Nicklas Bendtner yet to really deliver dividends.

On top of that, the owner also sanctioned Bruce’s £5m signing of Craig Gardner, who has conspicuously flopped so far this season.

Food for thought then for the owner as he contemplates which course to steer.

His natural inclination will be to stand by his man.

Short has been satisfied with Bruce in every aspect of his management, other than results.

But it is results and public support which will ultimately determine the fate of any manager.

And while Short is prepared to give Bruce time, he knows that that course of action will become increasingly limited if fans vote with their feet, or turn on the manager enough for him to become a liability rather than an asset.