Steve Bruce refuses to blame Darren Bent sale for Sunderland form
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce does not believe Darren Bent's shock January departure is the reason for the club's alarming slump in form.
The Black Cats have won just one of the 10 Barclays Premier League games they have contested since the England striker headed for Aston Villa in a £24million transfer, and taken a solitary point from the last nine to slip to within five points of the relegation zone.
They have scored only nine goals in the process and just two of them have come from big-money summer signing Asamoah Gyan.
However, while many commentators have pointed to Bent's untimely departure and Sunderland's decision not to replace him, even with a stop-gap signing, as the pivotal moment, Bruce insists their problems have been at the back rather than up front.
He said: "For me, when we were successful, the reason was our back lot. Our back lot was rock solid, we didn't give much away.
"Certainly when [Michael] Turner and [Titus] Bramble were in tandem, we kept four or five clean sheets at that particular time, and that hasn't happened since.
"For me, rather than up the front end, the one area where you need to be rock solid and create partnerships is at the back.
"You need that spine of your team and unfortunately, it hasn't really happened.
"But it is what it is. I can stand here and try to make excuses, but it is what it is.
"It isn't going to get any better - it certainly doesn't look as if it is going to get any better for this season - so we have to live with it, get over the over the line and address everything and analyse everything and understand the reasons why better than we are doing at the moment."
Bruce's argument has some merit - his side have conceded 24 goals in its last 10 games with a creditable 0-0 draw at Arsenal on March 5 their only clean sheet.
Both Bramble and Turner have missed large parts of the season with knee injuries - indeed, the former may not play again before the end of the campaign with a cartilage problem - while loan signing John Mensah's fragility has become a constant and costly theme.
However, they have also been hit hard in attack with Fraizer Campbell having managed only four appearances this season and facing the possibility of sitting out much of the next, while Danny Welbeck, having just returned from a knee injury, damaged a hamstring in Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Birmingham.
Bruce has found himself in the difficult position of trying not to make his lengthy casualty list an excuse, but at the same time having to piece together a team from walking wounded and youngsters who in an ideal world, would be introduced more gradually.
He said: "I can only try to give reasons for why we are where we are at the moment.
"For instance, one statistic is Turner and Bramble have played together eight times and we have lost once.
"Now we know even Chelsea with [Frank] Lampard missing are not quite the same; Manchester United when they are without [Nemanja] Vidic and [Rio] Ferdinand, not quite the same.
"Unfortunately, we have not been able to cope with the loss of so many for so long. It's caught up with us.
"We haven't been able to cope with having six or seven missing week in and week out."
Latest in Sport
Kevin Garside: Manchester United may have history and tradition but, as David Moyes never realised, a big-time manager always bends such things to his will
Louis van Gaal denies problem with Wilfried Zaha despite Manchester United forward being given no game time
Manchester United latest: Angel Di Maria move no closer as Juan Mata emerges as Louis van Gaal's favoured No 10 as prospect of signing
Arsenal transfer news: Versatile Calum Chambers is a 'gamble', admits Arsene Wenger as Arsenal spending passes £50m
Tour de France 2014: Vincenzo Nibali confirmed as champion as he puts Italy back on the map with triumph
- 1 Secret Cinema: Why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
- 2 Christians: The world's most persecuted people
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
- 4 Thatcher ‘was warned of Tory child sex party claims’
- 5 The Simpsons Family Guy trailer: First look at crossover episode after Comic-Con debut
The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Were 'Poor Doors' added to mixed developments so wealthy residents don't have to go in alongside social housing tenants?
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc