Bruce confident Sunderland can escape relegation

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The Independent Online

Steve Bruce is convinced Sunderland can drag themselves out of relegation trouble despite their 14-game wait for a Barclays Premier League victory.

The Black Cats could only draw 0-0 with Fulham yesterday in the first of four successive games at the Stadium of Light, and have now taken only seven of the last 42 points on offer, form that has left them worryingly close to the bottom three.

A crowd of 40,192 left Bruce and his players in little doubt as to their opinion as they left the pitch at the final whistle, and the pressure on them as they prepare for Bolton's visit to Wearside on March 9 is growing all the time.

He said: "We have got to handle it. The one thing here - which I know after living here - Fulham haven't got and Wigan and Birmingham and Bolton, there isn't the huge expectation that you have here.

"That goes with the territory of playing here and being able to handle it here.

"Let's be fair, over the years, we haven't been quite up to it. That's the challenge and I am convinced we will get there."

Fulham arrived in the north-east on the back of their Europa League success against reigning UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk, and an attritional contest produced few chances of note, although it was the home side who enjoyed the better of them.

That said, keeper Mark Schwarzer had only two real saves to make and he had little trouble in keeping out Darren Bent's first-half free-kick or Alan Hutton's left-foot drive after the break.

Substitute Boudewijn Zenden and Hutton both found the side-netting from tight angles but Fraizer Campbell passed up a glorious opening with three minutes remaining when he fired high over the bar.

Bruce said: "The concern at the moment is one thing: we have to get out of the run we are in.

"Who knows, the point we got, if we win next week - we keep saying it, if we win next week - it might be the point that takes us a couple of places up the table, who knows?

"We have got to stick together and learn from it and not shy away from it. It's a difficult time but I still think we will be okay."

Opposite number Roy Hodgson was understandably the happier of the two managers as he turned his attention to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

He said: "With 38 points with 10 games left to play, we can be reasonably confident we will have another year in the Premier League.

"As I have said all along, that was the major goal for us this season. The cup successes have been an incredible bonus but the major success, I always feel, for Fulham Football Club will be to keep the run of years in the Premier League going."

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