Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner has branded criticism of the club's start to the season "ridiculous".

The Black Cats head into Sunday's home clash with Stoke with manager Steve Bruce's detractors in full voice after a run of five games in all competitions without a victory.

That has left the club in 16th place in the Barclays Premier League with just two points, only one more than basement boys Blackburn, and that, along with a second-round exit from the Carling Cup at Brighton, has fostered an air of discontent. Gardner told the Journal: "We are four games into the [league] season - it's ridiculous."

Passions were, perhaps understandably, running high after a derby defeat by arch-rivals Newcastle in the second game of the campaign, but Gardner insists the reaction has been over the top.

Gardner added: "People are writing us off, but there's no way you can. I think people are jumping on the bandwagon.

"We haven't played that badly, we are not struggling. We are four games into the season, we have got two points and we have played Newcastle and Chelsea at home. We have actually had two good results away from home.

"I don't understand why people are saying we are struggling because at the end of the day, we are not. We are playing well, we are just lacking a couple of goals, which will come.

"We are a top-quality team and there are four games gone. I can't believe it. The players we have brought in - look at them.

"There's experience, there's youth, there's pace, there's creativity. There's no way we are going to struggle at the bottom all season."

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Sunderland
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Brighton & Hove Albion