STEVE BRUCE’S TEAMS DESERVE RESPECT, EVEN IF NOT PRETTY TO WATCH: Preview of Sunderland-Wigan Athletic

Steve Bruce is a name that most Wiganers will regard with respect. He kept Wigan Athletic afloat during difficult times in the Premier League in his return to the club. In his previous spell he got his team into the playoffs, where they were unluckily defeated. He left Wigan to join a club willing and able to spend so much more cash, hungry  for improvement. Sunderland got major cash windfalls through the sales of Kenwyne Jones and Jordan Henderson, but Bruce  has also spent a lot of money, has  a high wage bill  and has to deal with high expectations from the fans. Poor results are putting him under increasing pressure. Bruce won 32% of his Premier League games at Wigan. At Sunderland he has won only 28% so far, despite major capital outlays. Sunderland stand 15th two points above the drop zone. Bruce’s job is under threat: a bad result this weekend could be the final straw.

Sunderland, like the Wigan team in Bruce’s time, will not be pretty to watch. It will be fight-ball, rather than football, with the ball in the air, looking for knock-ons and deflections. Strong tacking will be the order of the day. It was a successful formula at Wigan and probably will be at Sunderland , if he is given the time to persevere. Latics have gone nine games without a win; Sunderland have won one in their last seven. Sunderland have won only two of their Premier League games against Wigan, whereas Latics have won five. Latics have taken seven points out of fifteen at Sunderland over the past five years.

So the portents suggest Latics have a decent chance of getting of getting a result against Sunderland. However, a certain amount of steel will be needed to do so. That was not evident last year when they capitulated 4-2 to an injury ravaged Sunderland team. If Latics are to be successful this time around they will need to stop Sunderland playing the way they like to play. Moreover they will need to avoid red cards and convert a much higher percentage of their goal scoring attempts into goals. More than anything they are going to have to have the mental steel and concentration required to beat the hosts. Hopefully Martinez will stick with his enlightened new tactical formation. Having three central defenders would help cope with the aerial threat, but the wing backs will need to play an important defensive role on the flanks. Cutting out the crosses is key to containing Sunderland.

Latics’ formation in the Blackburn match was a revelation. The result was disappointing, but a victory would have been well merited. Let those wing backs attack Sunderland and put quality crosses over. Oh, for a couple of central strikers to put the ball in the back of the net! Remember that Steve Bruce’s teams, like him deserve respect. They are never easy to beat. But it can be done!

Go Wigan: we can beat them!

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