Defensive stability is crucial for Steve Bruce

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STEVE Bruce will be looking for lucky 13 when he takes his team to Birmingham City this weekend.

The Black Cats have notched an impressive dozen clean sheets this season – more than any other team outside the top four – but only one since the opening week of 2011.

And Bruce says the defence rediscovering its mean streak is the key to halting the club’s recent slide.

Sunderland gave away three more awful goals in their 3-2 home defeat to West Brom at the weekend, meaning they’ve now conceded 21 goals in their eight-game winless streak – only three fewer than they conceded in the previous 24 games dating back to the start of the season.

And with Sunderland now among the lowest scorers in the division, Bruce (left) admits it will be impossible to turn things around until his side tightens up at the back.

“It’s easy to see where the problem lies,” he said. “If you look at the stats, we’ve conceded almost as many goals in the last eight games as we did in the rest of the season put together.

“And what makes it worse is the majority of the goals we have conceded of late have been soft ones. That’s not good enough and we have to put it right.

“We have to go back to basics and return to the way we were playing earlier on in the season.

“We prided ourselves on our defensive record and the number of clean sheets we had kept, but for some reason we have lost that stability.

“We are on a horrible run of form – no one likes losing seven games out of eight – and it is no coincidence that the one game we did pick up a point from, down at Arsenal, we kept a clean sheet.”

Sunderland’s defensive plans woes have been wrecked by a succession of injuries to key players with Michael Turner, Nedum Onuoha, John Mensah and Titus Bramble all missing for long periods.

Bruce said: “The injuries to big players have been a real problem for us. And even when we have been able to bring players back from injury, they have broken down again very quickly.

“I’ve never known a situation quite like it in my time in management, and I have asked questions of everything and everyone around me to try and find a reason. We just have to hope that we don’t pick up any more injury problems in the coming weeks.”