Bruce leaves thorny question of Europe to Bramble

Sunderland 3 Blackburn 0
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It sounded more like a political debate rather than the aftermath of a routine Premier League win for the hosts. Where do you stand on Europe? Steve Kean appears to have little hope of getting there this season, but the Blackburn manager was nevertheless happy to discuss it.

Steve Bruce has every chance of qualification but refuses point blank to enter the conversation. Titus Bramble, clearly a Europhile and somewhat off-message as far as his Sunderland manager is concerned, is seemingly already digging out his passport in anticipation of the Wearside club's first crack at the continent in four decades.

"I'm not going to talk about Europe," Bruce insisted after seeing his side climb back into the top six as his three principal forwards belatedly rediscovered their shooting boots. He added: "The last time someone mentioned it, we lost two on the bounce."

Bramble, Sunderland's stand-in captain, somewhat contradicted his manager when he enthused: "We're back up to sixth and confidence is sky-high. You never know, we've got to be aiming for Europe. We're good enough and you have to set yourself high targets, I don't see anything wrong with that. This is a massive club and we have a great chance of qualifying for Europe."

Blackburn haven't earned so much as a point from games in which they have fallen behind this season, so the outcome was in little doubt once Sunderland eased into a two-goal lead inside the first 20 minutes thanks to Danny Welbeck's deflected effort and a deft header from Darren Bent.

El Hadji Diouf volleyed into the crowd from three yards out to deny Blackburn a way back against his former employers, and Asamoah Gyan exploited the inevitable gaps left by the visitors to curl home the third from the edge of the area at the death.

Kean insists he has no issue with Bruce, despite the Sunderland manager's outspoken comments calling into question his appointment, in addition to dedicating victory to his close friend Sam Allardyce, the Scot's predecessor at Ewood Park. Allardyce, a former Sunderland defender, no doubt raised a glass to his old club from his holiday base in Dubai, but Kean insisted: "There's no problem with Steve despite his comments. I spoke to him before and after the game."

If Europe is off limits for Bruce, for Kean it isn't, although the 43-year-old denies suggestions his tenure will not be extended beyond the end of the season by the club's new owners should Blackburn miss out on the top six.

A single victory in his four games so far is hardly a flourishing start. "It's going to be a gradual process," he said. "When the window opens we'll try to get some numbers in and, hopefully, we can finish in the top half, which is the first task. In the summer we'll hopefully make a few more signings and push for the top six, but I don't think the owners expect us to challenge for Europe this season. We're showing people we're a club moving forward, players see that as a challenge and they want to come to a club on the up. We're close to signing two, possibly three players."

It's unlikely one of those will be David Beckham, despite the England midfielder touting himself around the Premier League and Kean adding: "If he comes back to this country, David's someone we'd be interested in."

Scorers: Sunderland Welbeck 11, Bent 19, Gyan 89.

Subs: Sunderland Zenden (Welbeck, 69), Gyan (Bent, 81), Angeleri (Elmohamady, 85).

Blackburn Benjani (Hanley, h/t), Morris (Hoilett, 78), Goulon (Dunn, 85).

Booked: Sunderland Ferdinand Blackburn Dunn, M B Diouf.

Man of match Elmohamady. Match rating 5/10.

Possession Sunderland 53% Blackburn 47%.

Shots on target Sunderland 8 Blackburn 3.

Referee M Dean (Merseyside). Att 36,242.