Black Cats boss Steve Bruce today doffed his cap in Norwich’s direction – and insisted that his Sunderland charges will head into this evening’s Carrow Road Sky clash with every respect for their hosts.
The former Canary star was a very interested spectator in last weekend’s 2-1 away win over Bolton Wanderers – City’s first away success in the top flight for 17 years.
If Paul Lambert’s men can now conjure up back-to-back, Premiership victories all will be set very fair as the newly-promoted side gear up for the daunting prospect of a trip to Old Trafford.
The point being, of course, that by then Norwich will have points and wins on the board; they can, in certain senses, take whatever comes at the hands of Manchester United.
If, of course, they can spring a nasty surprise on their former Milk Cup hero, who all-too often in the past has been linked to the Canary managerial position.
Bruce appears suitably wary; well aware of the highly-charged atmosphere that can await of an evening at Carrow Road.
“I take my hat off to Norwich for what they’ve achieved over the last couple of years,” said Bruce, whose last visit to Norfolk for a comfortable Carling Cup success found his former employers on their knees.
“When we made that trip in the cup, Norwich were in all sorts of trouble,” he told the Sunderland Echo ahead of this evening’s live fixture.
“I think they were bottom of League One and had just sacked their manager, but they turned it around big style after losing to us and it has been onwards and upwards for them ever since.
“They’ve won successive promotions and that takes some doing because you need to improve your team as you go along, and bringing in new players while keeping your momentum takes some doing.”
Sunderland, Bruce suggested, could have done without Norwich racking up their first win of the season just ahead of their visit.
With Lambert in the position of being to name an unchanged team for this evening’s fixture and with the Faithful likely to arrive with an extra spring in their step following that Reebok success, it ought to bode well for a decent game.
At the very least, the Black Cats ought to know that they have been in a game come ten o’clock. Their own, eye-catching away success at Stoke City will – likewise – have done them the power of good after one or two fingers were pointed in the wake of the home defeat by neighbours Newcastle.
“That will have done them the world of good and will be another reason why we’ll find it difficult this evening,” Bruce confirmed, quizzed about the lift that first win gives any Premiership team – let alone those newly-promoted to the top flight.
“It’s always a good moment when you get your first win of the season under your belt but never more so than when you’re a newly-promoted team and they’ll want to take that into tonight’s game and get their first home win of the campaign.”
The question that Bruce will be left to ponder is whether Lambert will stick with the Fox-Hoolahan centred show – or adopt a more, muscular straight-forward flat approach offered by a Crofts-Johnson combination in the middle of the park.
That, in turn, could leave the way open for club skipper Grant Holt to return up top.
But at what cost in terms of the creation, delivery and invention that having the likes of a Wes Hoolahan and a David Fox on the pitch offers?
“When I watched them against Bolton, I got a picture of a very well-organised team but also a team that can play a bit,” said Bruce, who will left to ponder what awaits right until the last minute.
“Norwich are a good footballing side and I think it could be a very good game tonight but I also know it will be difficult for us,” he added.
“Norwich have earned the right to deserve respect from us and they’re opponents we’ll be taking seriously.”