VIDEO: Sunderland boss relishing return to Norwich City
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce fully expects his side’s Monday night TV date at Carrow Road to be a much tougher assignment than the last one.
Bruce had been manager of the Black Cats for just a few weeks when they cruised to a 4-1 Carling Cup second round victory over the Canaries in August 2009 - in only the second match after Paul Lambert took charge of a team struggling in League One.
The Sky Sports cameras will be back as the two clubs meet again in very different circumstances in the Premier League on Monday (8pm), and the one-time City skipper saw enough in the 2-1 win at the Reebok Stadium five days ago to realise the transformation that has taken place at his former club in the space of two years.
“It will be totally different and that’s a credit to the manager and his team and to the players. They have all had a wonderful couple of years,” said Bruce.
“I watched Norwich play at Bolton. They were full of energy, desperate to do well in the Premier League, typical of a club coming up.
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“They play football the right way, the Norwich way. They seem to be a club on the up and they will be trying very hard to stay there.”
Bruce, now 50, still has a high regard for Norwich after more three years at centre-back brought him not just 180 games and 21 goals, but a Milk Cup triumph over Sunderland in 1985, the player of the season award the same year, the Division Two title in 1986 and fifth place in the former Division One in 1987, before an �825,000 move to Manchester United.
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“I’m delighted for them for obvious reasons,” he said. “It’s a club I’ve always, always looked out for to see how they’re doing. I’ve said this for years, they gave me my opportunity in the top league when I was at Gillingham and I will always be grateful for that. One thing that’s never changed is the terrific support. There were thousands there at Bolton. It’s a unique football club and I’m just pleased to have played a little part in it.”
Bruce admits Sunderland’s 4-0 home victory over Stoke City on Sunday was a very welcome result after a difficult start to the season, including home defeats by North East rivals Newcastle and Chelsea.
“I have been under so-called pressure these last two or three weeks,” he said.
“That’s what it’s like being a manager in the North East. Lose the derby game and it’s all chaos, but that’s normal with Newcastle and Sunderland. It’s not like anywhere else. We’ve had to play Liverpool away and Chelsea and we lost a derby game that is like no other, but we had a good win at the weekend. We needed it.
“We made a lot of changes in the summer. I had five loan players last year, then Bolo Zenden left, then Jordan Henderson, and two or three others and then you’ve lost 10 players out of 24. It’s a huge rebuilding process.”
Sunderland finished 13th and 10th in the Premier League in Bruce’s first two seasons in charge, squeezing into the top half last May despite losing six of their final seven home games.
“It’s been a tough couple of years. I inherited a squad that survived on the last day of the season, when Newcastle lost at Aston Villa and that sent them down,” he said. “Last season we were going very, very well and then we were hit with serious injuries and went on an awful run. That can happen in the Premier League. You can quite easily go into a run of eight or 10 games where you only pick up two or three points. So it was frustrating last season but I’ve enjoyed it. And when the club finished 10th last season it was Sunderland’s third highest position in 55 years. This is the club’s fifth season back. I believe there have been 48 different clubs in the Premier League. Nine or 10 of them have been there since day one, and the rest of us are trying to stay with them.”
Bruce knows Sunderland will face a very different Norwich line-up from two years ago. Of the 11 who started the Carling Cup tie, only Wes Hoolahan, Grant Holt and Simon Lappin are currently at Carrow Road. But there will be one familiar face in the opposite dug-out with former defensive colleague Ian Culverhouse now City’s assistant manager. Said Bruce: “It’s a long, long time since I played with Ian. He was a very decent footballer – but he looks as grey as me these days.”