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.
Bruce insists their problems have been at the back rather than up front. "For me, when we were successful, the reason was our back lot. Our back lot was rock solid, we didn't give much away," he said.
"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."
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. We haven't been able to cope with having six or seven missing week in and week out."
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