Steve Bruce has billed Sunderland’s English Premier League clash with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as an ‘cup final’.
The Sunderland manager thinks the game is so pivotal to the club’s fortunes – the Black Cats have sunk to 12th on the table and are now an uncomfortable six points from the relegation zone – that he had no problem talking the match up.
And he upped the ante in the hope that his players – so poor against Manchester City in their 5-0 drubbing last Sunday – will finally produce their best form.
“Saturday is a cup final for us,” Bruce said. “It’s that important.”
“For our season, this is the game of the season. It can either make us if we win it, or it make the last six games very difficult for us if we don’t.”
“It’s got nothing to do with the 40-point barrier (to avoid relegation) people talk about it.”
“It’s simply because if we win we could go seventh and have the prospect of a good finish to the season. But if we lose, we have to see the last six games as being all about avoiding relegation as soon as possible.”
“It is the game for us – the game of the season for us in terms of which direction it sends us.”
“If we beat West Brom then we have the prospect of potentially going seventh and hopefully turning our season back around again. That’s the incentive for us.”
“Let’s go out there and show how good we can be.”
Bruce could be set to ring the changes as he returns to a 4-4-2 formation, with Danny Welbeck fit again to partner record-signing Asamoah Gyan up front.
Bruce said: “This is where you earn your money as a manager. I have got to pick a team that will beat West Brom (on Saturday).”
“Whether that’s by going for experience, for youth or whatever, I have to find the right answers.”
“I’ve told the players I will go on what I see in training this week – who is hungriest, who is sharpest – but I’ve got a few ideas in mind.”
That could see the likes of Steed Malbranque, Kieran Richardson, Nedum Onuoha and Ahmed Elmohamady all returning to the side.
Defender Titus Bramble has been ruled out with a knee problem while striker Fraizer Campbell is doubtful with a similar injury.
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