Three months after his departure, Steve Bruce is still talking about Darren Bent. Saturday's defeat at Birmingham was Sunderland's eighth defeat in ten games since the striker packed his bags and departed for Aston Villa. In that period, the Black Cats have claimed four points and hit the net just nine times. Saturday was their fifth blank in that period and that Bruce is still pining for Bent's goals speaks volumes for the muddle his side are in.
"Up front, we haven't had enough to cope with Bent wanting to leave and [Frazier] Campbell re-injuring himself," Bruce said, bringing up the topic before any of his inquisitors had mentioned it. "It has affected us. We took that calculated gamble in January. With hindsight, it looks very difficult."
Should Bruce and club chairmen Niall Quinn have dug in their heels and forced the striker to stay at the Stadium of Light? "Hindsight about what was done in January is a wonderful thing," replied the manager. "The one thing that was obvious was that Bent wanted to go. There's no good looking back on it, we have to learn from it."
Yet Bruce, evidently, still views the decision with some regret and the only solace for Sunderland right now is that their excellent first half to the season has ensured that the fear of relegation isn't quite as pronounced as it might be. Bruce has predicted that 41 points should be enough to stay up, which for Sunderland means one more victory. Overall, their performance on Saturday was bright enough to suggest they can win at least one of their three remaining home games.
Seb Larsson's persistence on 41 minuites put his side in front after an error by Sunderland's Simon Mignolet, while Craig Gardner's ninth goal of the season from distance on 66 minutes was enough to seal the deal with time to spare.
"We had a bad spell after the [Carling Cup] final," Alex McLeish said. "There was a wee bit of soul-searching and we've had to work hard to get us in the new position we're in. If the players give me what they have given me in the past few weeks in every remaining game, then we will get up the league a bit."
That might allow McLeish the breathing space to re-sign some of the eight players out of contract at the club this summer.
Scorers: B'ham Larsson 41, Gardner 66. Subs: B'ham Hleb (Phillips, 63), Fahey (Larsson, 88), Derbyshire (Jerome, 90). S'land Noble (Welbeck, 70), Malbranque (Colback, 76). Booked: None. Man of the match Larsson. Match rating 6/10. Attempts on target: B'ham 4 S'land 7. Ref P Dowd (Staffs). Att 28,108.