TEAMtalk's James Marshment explains why Sunderland must act now and axe Steve Bruce if they are to avoid a relegation dogfight this term.
I've never been one to make knee-jerk reactions and I'm usually the first to advocate the 'give-a-manager-more-time' ethos.
However, after watching Sunderland bumble from one disaster to the next over the 2011 calendar year
, I think the club must now seriously consider axing Bruce from the what has become a pretty troubled hot-seat.
And anyone who witnessed their toothless and disjointed performance at Carrow Road on Monday night will realise that Bruce is a man worried that the egg-timer may finally have run out of sand for him on Wearside.
It all started to go wrong in January when talismanic striker Darren Bent submitted a transfer request and was subsequently sold to Aston Villa. Bent had scored 32 goals in 18 months on Wearside and you did worry at the time where the goals were going to come from.
The Black Cats' results towards the back end of the 2010/11 season, following Bent's sale, were so woeful that Sunderland went from a position of challenging for Europe, to one where they were battling for survival.
As with every club, pre-season brought with it renewed hope. And Sunderland illustrated they were right behind Bruce by allowing him to invest in the side heavily, with John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Craig Gardner, Ji Dong-won, Connor Wickham, David Vaughan, Keiren Westwood and Seb Larsson (among others) all signing for the club.
To be fair to Bruce, I think he spent well and brought in some decent footballers, a mix of proven Premier League performers and exciting young talent.
But the one area he didn't strengthen was in attack, as highlighted by Mark Holmes' blog way back in July.
To be fair to Bruce - he probably expected Asamoah Gyan to come good following his club-record arrival the previous summer. But after months of being unsettled by agents - one of whom delusionally told him that Real Madrid were keen - Gyan upped sticks and moved on to the bright lights (and million-dollar wages) on offer in the United Arab Emirates.
It was an enormous kick in the teeth to Bruce, but one which was to also have a catastrophic effect on Sunderland's potency. Gyan's defection also meant that Wickham - a precocious talent, but very much untried at the top level - has been thrust into the first-team limelight sooner than expected.
Wickham to me looks a very good player, and much like Romalu Lukaku at Chelsea, has a build defiant of his tender years. But, like any young forward, he's going to take time to adjust to the Premier League and it would be wrong to rely on him for goals during what should be his bedding-in period.
But with only Nicklas Bendtner as an out-and-out frontman to call upon, Wickham is going to be playing probably far more often than Bruce would have preferred at this stage.
Going back to Monday night, Sunderland's performance at Carrow Road was symbolic of a team bereft of confidence, and one which was lacking in leadership both on and off the field - strange when you consider just eight days earlier the same team had beaten Stoke 4-0. A fluke perhaps; or maybe Stoke just had a bad day at the office following their European exertions in Kiev just a few days earlier.
Either way, the fact that Sunderland could not take the confidence from that result into the clash at Carrow Road suggests to me that Bruce has lost his focus, lost his drive, lost the dressing room. Whatever the situation, unfortunately for Bruce the stats don't lie and his current win ratio at Sunderland is a mere 30.77% - the worst he's ever had as a manager and one of the worst in the Premier League.
They have made their worst start to a season since the 2005-06 campaign when they went down with 15 points. And their run of just four Premier League wins since the start of February is a serious cause for concern.
Time will only tell whether Bruce can arrest the slide, or whether Sunderland decide to call time on his tenure. However, I believe the club needs a change of direction, and sooner rather than later, if they are to arrest their slump.
As I said, I think on paper Bruce has bought well but something isn't gelling and a change of direction is now required if they are to avoid a season of fighting relegation.
i have highlighted what i consuder the key points and why he should be sacked.