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Is it time to credit Steve Bruce?

Several years ago I wrote a piece lambasting Sunderland under Steve Bruce and how he would never move the club forward – it is now probably time that I gave the now Hull City manager the credit that he deserves.

Since his departure from the Stadium of Light, at a point where the Mackems where going through a period of persistent midtable mediocrity and looking more likely to fall rather than rise – Sunderland have declined at a frightening rate. Martin O’Neil came in and was expected to push them on but after an encouraging start, it became apparent that this was not the perfect match many had anticipated – with the Black Cats alarmingly spiralling towards danger when O’Neil was dismissed in the final quarter of last season. In came the loose cannon Paolo di Canio, yet his romance was short lived with the Italian dismissed a few weeks back after a disastrous start which has left Sunderland with a mountain to climb even at this early stage. Further to that new manager Gus Poyet has been left the job of moulding a squad that underwent almost a complete summer overhaul.

Bruce on the other hand is seeing his stock rise considerably, having guided Hull into the Premier League last season the Tigers have made a more than confident start to life in the big time – in the process belittling the early season predictions which indicated they would be set for an instant Championship return.

The Geordie may not be the most tactically astute, or his football might not be as enterprising as some but without question he knows how to keep sides afloat in the lower regions of the Premier League. He did it at Wigan for two seasons, aided Birmingham in punching above their weight for several seasons albeit eventually taking the Blues down and for a brief time had a relatively solid spell in charge of Sunderland. Prior to his dismissal from that job he had took the club to 10th placed and 13th placed positions in 2010 and 2011 respectively – how Sunderland would take that kind of return now.

Undoubtedly at Sunderland things did become a struggle and at the time few could have argued with his sacking, with the club spiralling towards the relegation zone. That said, it should not be ignored that midway through his reign he lost both Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan – in truth something his Sunderland side never recovered from.  In counter to that, Bruce would have to take a significant proportion of the blame in failing to redistribute that money successfully, bringing in a few to many players who were either past their best or fringe players from top clubs who struggled to adjust to the week in week out toils of bottom half Premier League life.

Transfer dealings though is generally one of Bruce’s strongest assets, you only need to look at his work with Hull this season for evidence of that. Tom Huddlestone looks a steal at £5 million and is already giving significant return on that investment, Allan McGregor is an excellent cut price acquisition in goal, Maynor Figueroa who signed on a free is a seasoned Premier League campaigner whilst Curtis Davies has re-adapted to Premier League life well. Add that to last season’s work in bringing in the influential Robbie Brady, ex Sunderland pair David Meyler and Ahmed Elmohammedy and Bruce clearly built a solid side – which is exactly where his strengths lies, building solid sides. It is not just Hull either where we have can view evidence of this, at Wigan he brought in several players who have gone on to become seasoned top flight campaigners – most notably Antonio Valencia.

Even when he was appointed at Hull there were a few eyebrows raised, given that his reputation at that time was hardly glowing – yet now he is the toast of the City, having taken them to what was without question an unexpected promotion. It is early days yet to be proclaiming that he will definitely keep the side up but their start has been more than encouraging, with Hull proving difficult proposition to encounter. Yes they undoubtedly lack a striker, having been unlucky in missing out on both Shane Long and Nicklas Bendtner in summer – Bruce will hope his side are still afloat by January and look to address this issue then.

For Sunderland it has to be frustrating to see their ex manager performing such an excellent job whilst their side look in real danger of falling out of the division. There will likely be more than a few fans wondering what might have been, but then there are countless decisions that could have been differently and as a result denied the current mess they find themselves.

Bruce is never going to be a fashionable manager but having produced solid returns with another top flight side, it is perhaps time that people acknowledged him as the astute worker that he quite clearly is.