Sunderland’s charge for European football seems to be coming undone before it really gathered any momentum. They slumped to another disappointing defeat on the road this afternoon, losing 1-0 to Fulham thanks to an early Bobby Zamora goal.
The result provides yet more evidence to suggest that Sunderland need to reinforce their squad in the January transfer window. Steve Bruce’s side have now lost six out of eight away fixtures in the league.
That is one of the worst records in the division.
Bruce is acutely aware of this, saying before today’s game at Fulham: "If we don't improve, it will ruin our season."
"If we had just done averagely, another four points would have taken us up into fifth or sixth and, going into Christmas, that would be far, far healthier.
"But that's why the Premier League week in and week out is so tough and so demanding. If you are not quite at it, you are not 100 percent at it, you will be beaten.
"We have got to get a few results; it's as simple as that.”
Travelling to Fulham was always going to be a difficult fixture, Roy Hodgson is a fantastic manager and his side have a terrific record at Craven Cottage, but the manner in which the Cottagers ripped apart his side’s defence in the early stages of this game will worry Bruce.
Kieran Richardson is not the best option at left back, and players such as Phil Bardsley, Anton Ferdinand, and Nyron Nosworthy are decent players, but not ones you would expect to see in a team sheet challenging for the Europa League.
Sunderland’s bench looked particularly weak this afternoon too, when they went behind, the attacking options available to Bruce were: Veteran Bolo Zenden, young Fraizer Campbell, Daryl Murphy, and David Healy.
Not exactly a bench to drive fear into the hearts of opponents.
Clearly this is a team in transition, last year Sunderland only managed to avoid relegation on the final day, now they are looking like firm candidates for Top 10 status. That Bruce has managed to achieve this transformation on a relatively small budget is remarkable.
What happens in January can make or break their season. Without further backing, Sunderland’s thin squad will continue to struggle away from home and this will poison their hopes of European football.
A further cash injection—spent wisely—could give them the push needed to propel the Black Cats into the Europa League places.
It may well be an overachievement in Bruce’s first season, but the opportunity is still there for Sunderland, though their chances are slowly ebbing away.
Niall Quinn and Ellis Short need to seize the momentum and back Bruce to deliver European football to Wearside, otherwise this side will quickly fade into mid-table mediocrity.