WES Brown says the self-belief Martin O’Neill has instilled in Sunderland’s players has made the difference between them winning and losing games.
But the centre-half says he still has great respect for sacked boss Steve Bruce, who he feels could easily have been the one enjoying the fruits of success.
The former Manchester United defender – like John O’Shea – was persuaded to swap Old Trafford for the Stadium of Light last summer by Bruce’s conviction that he was successfully assembling a top 10 Premier League side.
Unfortunately for the Tynesider, he could not find the winning formula and it has been left to O’Neill to get the very best out of the players.
“We are the same players as Steve Bruce had,” reflected Brown after Saturday’s 2-0 success against Swansea.
“Confidence was low and we were not winning too many games and you can get down a little bit because of that.
“We just needed a lift.
“Steve Bruce was a great manager and he was very unlucky.
“The team is the same – just that little bit of confidence and we could have been up and running.
“The Swansea game is maybe the type of game we would have lost two months ago, but we now have a few good wins under our belts.
“We have five out of eight, so even when there was a bit of pressure on us, we were defending well and making it difficult for Swansea, who are good at keeping the ball.”
Sunderland chose to play almost on the counter-attack on their home ground – the view being that precision rather than possession would be the key.
“At times, we broke better and maybe had the better chances,” acknowledged Brown.
“We watched Swansea on the tapes and they keep the ball very well, credit to them where it is due.
“We pressed at times and won the ball back, but that was basically our plan.
“Once we got to our own half we all got together and blocked it up and tried to counter-attack.
“When we got the ball, it was time to break and we did that well, but we all had to go together, which we did.”
There was much speculation about the future of Craig Gardner after the game, the Brummie scorer of a spectacular 85th-minute goal which cliched victory but is reportedly homesick, with his first-team opportunities limited so far this season.
Several clubs in the West Midlands are believed to be interested in bidding for the 25-year-old’s services in this month’s transfer window.
But Brown believes the midfielder will stay on Wearside.
“Craig is all right,” he said.
“Don’t get me wrong – every player wants to start, and he probably has not started as many as he wanted. He will be fine. He is not going anywhere.
“He is a great player, he scores goals like that all the time training. That is the sort of player he is.
“Craig has great technique and a great shot with both feet.
“He scored a great one at Wigan, too. He’s always putting them in during training.”