Steve Bruce cut a confused, folorn figure as he poured over the ashes of the defeat which ultimately proved to the end of the line at Sunderland. Red in the face, he offered not so much excuses, but desperate reasons as to why they had been so wasteful and spurned so many chances, and why he was the right man to turn round this ailing giant of the north.
Unfortunately for him, defeat to Wigan is akin to a death sentence in Premier League football. Somewhat harshly defeat against the Lactics is a large ticked box in a list entitled “the sack”, and so it proved for Bruce who was shown the door after 13 Premier League games.
Two wins were accumulated in those 13 games, with 15 goals shipped and the same amount scored.
Bruce needed time and patience to turn things around, qualities so rare in the Premier League that they’re akin to unicorn sightings, and now Bruce's sacking is even more compelling evidence that in modern football, they simply do not exist. Wigan’s Roberto Martinez appeared exasperated at the news Bruce had been pushed over the edge, perhaps it was a reminder that was a little too close to home for the Spaniard.
Rarely is it the case that it is possible to pin point the exact moment that a managerial reign turned tail and fled for the hills - and the case of Steve Bruce’s demise is no different.
Darren Bent’s departure has been singled out as the main reason for the downfall of Bruce’s reign at Sunderland, but there was more to it than that, more than the departure of one player that caused the empire to collapse. Liverpool appear to be doing well without Fernando Torres, Newcastle without Andy Carroll even more so.
The England International’s goals were precious at the Stadium of Light, so much so in fact they prompted Bruce to hail him as a “future legend” of the club inside of a year of him being there.
But what of the loss of Asamoah Gyan so suddenly? This was a man who had lit up the World Cup and arrived on Wearside looking so capable of doing the same thing?
And what of the loss of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool? He remains young and raw but he was the heartbeat of Sunderland, his dynamism is still sorely missed. Lee Cattermole’s injury worries and lack of discipline hurt them as well – Bruce was forced to operate with the heart of his side missing.
Some blame must lay at his door. His approach to business in the transfer market transfer policy that earned Sunderland a reputation as the dumping ground of the top four; Wes Brown, John O’Shea arrived in the summer and have barely caused a ripple since. Nicklas Bendtner has been even less effective. In his time with Sunderland, Bruce bought in 30 players, with numerous coming and going with little effect.
Unmotivated and at the very worse uncaring, Bruce’s expensively if chaotically assembled squad failed him when he needed them.
The fans appeared to know the game was up as well. The Stadium of Light’s capacity of 47,000 was rarely required, with an average attendance of 37,000 this season, Sunderland’s crowds represents the 4thworse in the Premier League when it comes to filling a venue. This was a sinking ship.
What remains of interest however is that in recent weeks, Chelsea and Wigan players spoke publicly of the responsibility of the players to arrest their slump in form that had in truth developed into something more than just that. There was no sight nor sound of a Sunderland player owning up to the responsibility for their run of form. Only he will know if he lost the dressing room, but insipid displays devoid of any passion point to one thing only.
It turns out, it was a slump big enough to account for Bruce’s job anyway - his kingdom that had once looked so grand when a wave of new money bathed the club in light had deteriorated to nothing.
When Bent left for Aston Villa in January he spoke with a knowing wisdom that he had joined a side of the necessity to move now and join a club capable of going places, despite the fact that the late departure of Martin O’Niell had left them reeling near the foot of the table.
“People have asked why I swapped a top six club for one currently in the bottom four. But I believe Villa are in a false position, they have been sixth for the past three seasons." He said. How right he has been proved.
Bruce himself remained dignified throughout and will earn another shot again some time soon, but his time at the Stadium of light had all the hallmarks of a career that had run out of steam. His departure was sadly inevitable.