SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce took the unusual step of naming names after the Black Cats’ latest set-piece collapse.
But the inability to defend from corners and free-kicks has cost Sunderland dearly in recent weeks and the manager’s patience was at an end when he faced the Press after Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Spurs.
“Set-piece defending is part of the game, but, at the moment, we’re just not doing it,” he sighed.
“It’s a simple part of the game, too, the ball comes in and you get up, get in there and don’t let them get a useful touch.
“All it takes is courage and concentration, but, at the moment, far too often, we don’t seem to be producing either.
“Against Spurs, the frustration for me is the manner in which we concede the first goal – the goal which effectively changes the game.
“It wasn’t even a particularly great delivery from their corner, just a simple set-piece.
“But Titus Bramble has switched off at the critical moment and then from the header, the keeper should do better – I didn’t think he was obscured by someone’s run, I thought it was past him before he reacted.”
What worries Bruce is that uncovering Sunderland’s weakness is not the problem – it’s dealing with it.
“That’s the disappointment for me after Stoke,” he said.“We haven’t learned our lesson. “And it’s costing us dearly – in this league if you don’t do your job properly it costs you.”
And all the more exasperating for the manager is that in between the mistakes from his side, there’s magic.
“Some of our first-half play was terrific,” he agreed. “We played well in the first half against Chelsea, we dominated the game against Stoke and against Spurs we deserved to be ahead on the balance of our first half’s play.
“But then we’ve conceded a daft goal which gives them a lift just before half-time and our dressing room is as flat as it could be.
“Spurs defended well and scored a very good second goal, but we weren’t as good as we were in the first half because we’d given Spurs such a lift.”
Now Bruce is coming to the conclusion that the only way things will turn around again is with the return of big centre-back Michael Turner and others from the treatment table.
“We are down to the bare bones and pretty much every one of our injured players is six-foot plus,” Bruce accepted. “They’ll be a massive help when they come back.
“But we should be doing better than this.
“Craig Gordon’s a very good keeper, but he’s just having a hard time at the minute, like everyone does.
“If we had gone in at half-time 1-0 up and buzzing then it would have changed the game in my opinion but if, as a defensive unit, you don’t defend your set-pieces then you’re going to be in trouble.”