STEVE Bruce is ready to ditch his 4-4-2 formation against Manchester United tomorrow, but insists Sunderland cannot afford to “shut up shop”.
The Black Cats boss has paired on-loan Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner and teenager Connor Wickham as an orthodox front two in the last two games and it has paid off, with Sunderland taking four points out of a possible six.
But Bruce is expected to tinker with his system at Old Trafford tomorrow after persistently preaching the merits of a five-man midfield against the Premier League’s powerhouses.
Bendtner will lead the line as a lone striker, but Bruce has hinted that Wickham could also feature after seeing the 18-year-old thrive in a wide left role for Ipswich in the Carling Cup semi-final against Arsenal last season.
Bruce believes Sunderland must pose an attacking threat against his old club or risk constant waves of pressure from the reigning Premier League champions.
“There’s a big debate over whether we should play 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-2 or whatever,” said Bruce.
“You can talk about tactics all you like, but however you play you have to make sure you perform to the best of your ability.
“If you do that, you have a chance regardless of the formation you play.
“The worst thing in my book is to just go there and accept that you are going to get beaten – and a lot of teams have done that over the years.
“If we go there and just try to shut up shop and defend for 90 minutes, Man U are used to that and they know how to break teams down.
“We have to try to cause them some problems, without being too open either.
“It’s a balancing act.
“I think you need an extra midfielder against the top clubs to prevent you being overrun, but last season I saw Connor play for Ipswich on the left wing against Arsenal and he got forward to support the lone striker. It’s something I’m considering.”
Bruce has never beaten Ferguson in 18 attempts as a manager, while Sunderland have not triumphed at Old Trafford since 1968.
But they were agonisingly close two years ago when Anton Ferdinand’s stoppage time own goal salvaged a point for United.
Bruce added: “We all know how difficult it is to get a result at Old Trafford – I’ve been trying for years!
“And I know there is this stat that it has been 43 years since Sunderland last won there, but we were only a minute away in 2009.
“We have to go there and be positive. We can’t go there and just say that historically we have never got anything at Old Trafford.
“Everything is geared towards Man U – it’s Sir Alex’s 25th anniversary in charge and it’s their first league game at home since they lost 6-1 against City, so they will be hurting after that.
“But none of that matters.
“The one thing you have to do in these kind of games against the big clubs is show up, play well and have a real crack at it.”
Midfielder David Vaughan remains doubtful with a groin problem. Sunderland are already without keeper Simon Mignolet and defender John O’Shea, with Keiren Westwood and Phil Bardsley their replacements.