The drive from Carrow Road, Norwich, about 400 kilometers, back to Sunderland may not be the longest road trip the Black Cats will face this season. That honor goes to Swansea, in distant south Wales which will see their loyal traveling support eat up a 1,200-km round trip.
The drive from Norwich, though, is not without its woes. The narrow country lanes that scar the East Anglian countryside will keep the top speed of the players coach down and that, combined with a 2-1 defeat, will combine to ensure a less-than-pleasant drive home for their manager, Steve Bruce.
The former Manchester United defender was a surprise choice when he took over at the Stadium of Light back in 2009.
But Sunderland’s credible 10th placed finish last season suggested that Niall Quinn and the board had acted wisely in bringing in Bruce.
Buoyed by cash from the sale of young Jordan Henderson, Bruce spread his money round evenly during the close season, bringing in experienced pros like Wes Brown and John O’Shea from United, Sebastian Larsson, South Korean Ji Dong-won and Nicklas Bendtner. With the promising young striker from Ipswich Town, Connor Wickham, added Bruce may have felt he had handled the departure of Henderson fairly well.
But then Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan decided he really wanted to play in that hotbed of football, the United Arab Emirates, reportedly quadrupling his salary in the process. Gyan had impressed in his debut season in the northeast, netting 10 league goals in 20 starts, but with agents starting to whisper in his ear what was on offer elsewhere, Sunderland’s preseason plans nose-dived.
The poor form from last season has continued into this one with just one win in the opening six games. They sit 14th in the table, one place behind Arsenal but just one point off the relegation places.
The fans have been reacting like fans all around the world. Already buffeted by an unforgiving economy, Sunderland supporters have had a torrid start to the season, and it’s not just been on the field.
Their last three away games have been at Norwich, Brighton and Swansea; Norwich being the closest! All they have for their efforts is Larsson’s goal at Carrow Road while their League Cup dreams were squashed on the south coast against Football League Championship side Brighton.
They have responded to the poor start by staying away; the Stoke City game attracted just over 32,000, leaving the Stadium of Light one-third empty.
Reading some of the message boards, it appears fans are losing patience, with discussion focusing on when Bruce feels the axe. Amid the calls for change, there are lone voices who suggest Bruce is a victim of the times and that, with the club feeling the pinch like the rest of the country, not much more can be expected.
But more can be expected from the players he has brought in. O’Shea, Brown and Bendtner aren’t strangers to the English Premier League. Bruce is entitled to expect and demand more from such experienced players, otherwise fans will be justified in asking why he has bought other teams’ hand-me-downs.
As the team bus would have turned on to the A1 for the long journey home, Bruce would have turned his attention away from the Norwich game and started thinking about how to combat West Bromwich Albion this coming weekend.