Sunderland on Course for Premier League Success Under Steve Bruce

Owen WatsonCorrespondent INovember 27, 2009

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Lorik Cana of Sunderland battles with Carlos Vela of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Suderland and Arsenal at The Stadium of Light on November 21, 2009 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The euphoria of last weekend’s victory against Arsenal has yet to dwindle on Wearside. Sunderland’s win caps an impressive start to the season. The Black Cats currently lie in eighth position in the table, level on points with Liverpool.

Considering the club only avoided relegation on the last day of the previous campaign, the transformation under Steve Bruce has been magnificent.

In a league where the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have thrown around mountains of money to reverse their fortunes, it is a credit to Sunderland’s manager that their turnabout has been achieved with a net spend of £15.25 million.

That would just about buy you a Kolo Toure, but would leave you half a million short of the sum paid to bring Jermain Defoe back to White Hart Lane.

Clearly the ex-Manchester United defender is savvy in the transfer market. Despite what his former chairman at Wigan Athletic, Dave Whelan, came out and said this week.

The question is now, can Sunderland sustain this success and challenge for a place in the Europa League at the end of the season?

In reality, the answer is: It’ll be tough.

Of those teams currently above them in the Premier League table, it is difficult to see them usurping any other club apart from Aston Villa.

Even that will be difficult. Martin O’Neill is a fantastic manager, and although his squad is comparatively weak on paper, the Northern Ireland native made some astute reinforcements in the summer.

They will also be welcoming Stewart Downing into the team very soon, making them an even sturdier outfit.

Sunderland, for their part, have shown some inconsistency in form, and beyond their starting 11, there is a worrying lack of quality needed to compete at the highest level.

The good news is that if the Black Cats can maintain their league position until January, then the club’s billionaire owner, Ellis Short, may be tempted to provide further backing to Bruce in the transfer market.

If the club aspires to bring European football to the Stadium of Light, then more signings may well be needed. Bruce received a stark reminder of the fragility of his success as Darren Bent limped off the pitch following the game against Arsenal.

Luckily, the damage done to his star striker seems to have been minimal, and Bent is expected to feature against Wigan this weekend.

If Sunderland are to continue their impressive start to the season, then Bruce will need Bent maintain his good form into January and beyond.

A result against Wigan on Saturday would go a long way to demonstrating the intentions of his side.

Sunderland have struggled at times away from home this season, and Wigan will be looking to respond to their 9-1 drubbing at the hands of Tottenham last week.

Avoid defeat and it could well be a sign that Sunderland are finding the consistency required to stake a legitimate claim to European football next season.

Lose, on the other hand, and Bruce will realise that his Black Cats still have a very long way to go.