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Cats boss can't just grin and bear it; Bruce's boys are toothless.

Byline: Mark Douglas

PERHAPS Steve Bruce's clarion call for his Black Cats to "bear their teeth" following their derby day disasterS was the wrong choice of words.

Because for the all the endeavour and effort showcased by Sunderland in their first three games, it is their lack of cutting edge that has turned Anfield encouragement into the first stirrings of an early-season crisis.

Toothless against Newcastle, Bruce opted to go with no specialist strikers at Brighton and his team once again drew a blank as they tumbled out of the Carling Cup.

One goal in three games is simply not good enough for a team with genuine aspirations of improving on their tenth place finish last season. The seriously troubling development is that Sunderland are creating the opportunities, but simply not taking them.

That is a huge problem for a manager who has spent the best part of pounds 25million signing strikers over the last year, and it is an unescapable fact that he needs to unlock the potential of Asamoah Gyan before the barren run becomes a habit.

It is becoming patently obvious that Gyan is not suited to his current role, with the Black Star looking an increasingly isolated presence on his own up front.

A brooding Bruce bristled at the suggestion that he was under pressure when poring over Monday's papers, but the fact is, the temperature has risen a notch on Wearside after two damaging defeats.

Three games into a new season is ridiculously early to be talking of anything other than choppy waters but with the exception of Sir Alex Ferguson, no one is fireproof in the Premier League - and this run cannot be allowed to continue for long. And there is also the slump at the back end of last season that means Sunderland have actually recorded only three wins in 2011.

Bruce earned his right to carry out the latest stage of his rebuilding project with progressively improved league positions, but there are questions to answer about a summer revamp that saw some pounds 10million spent on potential. Few would argue that Connor Wickham isn't a huge talent but presumably Bruce has seen something in his work on the training ground that suggests he is not yet ready for top-flight battle.

Even if that is the case, though, surely he would have been a decent bet against a level of opposition in Brighton that is bread and butter to the young striker.

Instead, Bruce persevered with Stephane Sessegnon up front, a logical call in a way given how the Benin forward has been performing of late.

But was it really sensible to hand him a lone role and ask others to fill the striking void that Bruce himself had created with his team selection? Probably not - if only for the message it sent to supporters who were clamouring for some sort of contribution from either their pounds 8m England under-21 man or the promising Ji Dong-Won, another investment in Black Cat futures. The formation is hopefully a short-lived experiment.

The solution may yet lie in the transfer market although The Journal understands talk of Roque Santa Cruz joining Sunderland is somewhat premature. The Paraguay hit-man is undoubtedly a fine player on his day but made a very limited impact at Blackburn when he joined in January and Sunderland need dynamism, pace and a clinical touch.

Craig Bellamy would be one solution but his weekly wage at Manchester City is prohibitive and for a club all spent out, Sunderland's recruitment remit is not exactly wide-ranging.

For the moment, Bruce must look within for a solution - dredging up all his many years of experience in management to find a way out of the slump. Past form suggests he is a boss with the tools to do it - but the time is nigh to prove it.


STRIKER WOES Asamoah Gyan and left, Black Cats boss Steve Bruce
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 25, 2011
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