DELIGHTED boss Steve Bruce hailed Sunderland’s defence in the wake of his side gaining a point away to potential Premier League champions Arsenal on Saturday.
The Black Cats’ manager has been firm in his conviction for some time that the Gunners are the only team who can shoot Manchester United off the top of the league this season.
So he knew it would take a top-quality performance from Sunderland if they were to take back anything from the Emirates.
Thankfully, he got it and, in the process, his side got a first clean sheet since the opening week of 2011.
“That was so important because our defence has been our strength this season, but we’ve struggled to keep a clean sheet for months now,” he said.
For the shut-out, Bruce admitted he was chiefly indebted to his two centre-halves and, of course, young goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
“Titus Bramble and John Mensah were excellent all afternoon,” said the manager.
“Titus was terrific for us in the first half of the season and then had a bad injury and it has taken him a while to get back going again, but that was him back to his best.
“And then there was Simon Mignolet, who has been a great find for us.
“He’s a top-class keeper and has the potential to go all the way, which is great for ourselves considering Craig Gordon has picked up a knock.
“They were strong at the heart of our defence, but then you need your players to perform if you’re going to get anything from the Emirates.”
For all Sunderland’s defensive resilience, it was a striker who might have grabbed the headlines – substitute Danny Welbeck – back after two months out – almost nicking the three points with a fine shot late on.
“I think Danny Welbeck showed what we’ve been missing over the last few months with all the injuries we’ve had,” said Bruce.
“Him and Fraizer Campbell returning to training has been great.
“And we’re hoping to have all of the injured players back in the next few weeks.
“I honestly thought Danny was going to snatch it. You’ve seen the ability he’s got – he’s picked the ball out of the sky, great shot and brought a great save out of the keeper.
“Players like him coming back can only strengthen us and having stopped the rot with a point at Arsenal, we hope to press on from here on in.”
Sunderland must now wait almost a fortnight for their next game, though, with Liverpool – impressive winners against Manchester United yesterday – due at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, March 20.