Steve Bruce. It's Steve Bruce!
As we have seen, Steve Bruce just loves a bit of alternative history. He has been out and about telling everyone with a microphone how brilliant he was, how mean us Sunderland fans are, how the only reason anyone had to sack him was because of his roots, and how he deserves any and all credit going for the upturn in fortunes since his departure.
So here is a little of our own alternative history to ram down Bruce's throat. Here is how I see the season panning out had Bruce stayed. I challenge anyone to make a reasonable case for it not being a highly likely scenario.
November 29th, 2011
Following the weekend's calamitous home defeat to bottom club Wigan, speculation over Steve Bruce's future has been rife on Wearside. Debate has raged, but there has been nothing but eerie silence coming from the club itself. The media, meanwhile, are divided, with some speculating that the high calibre available replacements of Martin O'Neill and Mark Hughes have been sounded out about taking the job whilst others adamant that the board's backing of Bruce is steadfast. They all seem to agree, however, that Bruce's future will ultimately be decided at an emergency board meeting tomorrow.
November 30th, 2011
Another day of speculation on Wearside. Sources in the local press confirm the board meeting to discuss Bruce's future is indeed taking place, but no one seems to have a genuine idea of what the result will be.
Finally, news breaks on the official club website that the board have decided to back Bruce. Chairman Ellis Short is quoted: "The board has to acknowledge that results simply have not been good enough. That said, it is our belief that the club's interests right now are best-served by the continuity that backing the current manager engenders".
"Considering the investment in the squad over the summer, we feel it is only right to offer Steve Bruce the time and patience required to fully integrate the new arrivals into the team and share the manager's confidence that results will show a sharp upturn in the winter months".
"Whilst understanding the fans' frustrations, we ask that you concentrate your energies on getting behind the team and the management".
December 1st, 2011
Bruce faces the media for his usual Thursday pre-match press conference. Top of the agenda is the fan reaction follow Franco Di Santo's last-minute winner for Wigan. "Well it was very hurtful. We finished 10th last season but it seems some refuse to forgive me for losing to Newcastle. That was my biggest mistake here. But what can you do? I knew about the obsession before I came here. I'll just show my teeth and get on with it".
December 4th, 2011
Two goals from Stephen Fletcher and a missed Sebastian Larsson penalty condemn Sunderland to defeat at Wolves and see them drop into the relegation zone. Bruce laments "a difficult week" but appeals for calm with fresh importance now attached to next week's game at the Stadium of Light with Blackburn.
December 6th, 2011
The club announce that James McClean is heading out to Hartlepool on loan for a month. "James has talent but I've always said there is a long settling-in period at this level and he isn't quite ready to be an influence on Premier League football yet. We'll look at it again in a month's time", Bruce tells SAFC TV.
December 11th, 2011
Simon Vukcevic's early goal is enough to condemn Sunderland to a third successive defeat to fellow-relegation strugglers. Despite a decent start, The Black Cats found Chris Samba in imperious form and lacked any spark from the bench to get back into the game. Following the game, Bruce spoke of the urgent need for attacking reinforcements in January and the "tough decisions" that needed to be taken to raise the required transfer kitty.
January 1st, 2012
With Sunderland still lingering in the relegation zone, the runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City arrive in town. New year cheer and holiday charity is in short supply, though, as City dispatch a poorly organised and surprisingly open Sunderland with ease, running out comfortable 3-0 winners. A gallingly upbeat Bruce addresses the Match of the Day cameras.
"It is obviously disappointing to lose the game, but at the end of the day we are only Sunderland and shouldn't get ideas above our station. Manchester City are a hugely powerful club and it's a privilege just to be on the same pitch as them really. We'll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and prepare for the challenges ahead".
January 8th, 2012
After a demoralising midweek 1-0 defeat at Wigan, Sunderland look forward to the FA Cup tie at Peterborough to prove a distraction from league difficulties. The ITV cameras get the shock they came for, however, as Bruce's weakened side meekly bow out of the competition at the first hurdle.
Later that day, news breaks of Neil Warnock's sacking at QPR.
January 10th, 2012
The press gather at Loftus Road as Mark Hughes is appointed QPR manager. Meanwhile, at Sunderland, Bruce announces that James McClean has had his loan at Hartlepool extended for the remainder of the season.
"James has done tremendously down there but we still think he is just a little short of making an impact here. So now he can concentrate on getting himself some games for the rest of the season and we'll have a look at it again in the summer".
January 14th, 2012
There is finally some welcome news for Steve Bruce as he is able to make Fraizer Campbell the surprise inclusion in the starting line-up for the trip to Chelsea. The dream soon turns into a nightmare, however, as barely 20 minutes into the contest, Campbell lands awkwardly under challenge from John Terry. After initial treatment is administered on the pitch, a stretcher is called for. Sunderland rally briefly, with substitute Connor Wickham opening the scoring, but Chelsea respond to run out comfortable 3-1 winners.
January 16th, 2012
The club confirm that Fraizer Campbell faces another 8 months out of action having suffered a recurrence of his knee injury at Stamford Bridge. "We knew it was a risk to play him, but he was so keen. The gravity of our situation meant we were perhaps a little too willing to rush him back into action, and we have to hold our hands up on that one. But Fraizer is as mentally tough as they come and we know he'll be back", Bruce explains.
January 19th, 2012
Wolves confirm that they have parted company with Mick McCarthy following the home FA Cup defeat to Birmingham. Martin O'Neill is installed as the immediate favourite for the job, and is appointed Wolves manager within days.
January 31st, 2012
With the club lodged firmly in the relegation zone and no hint of the improved winter form upon which all their hopes had been pinned, transfer deadline day takes on extra significance for Sunderland.
The morning starts badly, however, as it is revealed that Stephane Sessegnon is AWOL. The Benin international has failed to return following a trip to see his family, and speculation is rampant that he will not finish the day a Sunderland player.
Elsewhere, Ricardo Fuller is caught by Sky TV cameras leaving the Stoke training ground and heading for the North East. David Craig confirms a £3m fee has been agreed and the player is keen on the move.
As the deadline approaches, there is still no word on Sessegnon, but Bruce tells the official site he "expects him to remain a Sunderland player". Fuller completes his move though, and signs a lengthy 3-year-deal. There is an outgoing, however, as Jack Colback joins Leicester for a deal worth £2m.
February 2nd, 2012
Spirits are high as Bruce tells the media he is keen to build on the momentum that Sebastian Larsson's last minute winner against Norwich has created. He also has plenty to say about the club's transfer deadline deals.
"We've needed a striker for months and Ricardo fits the bill. He is explosive and has a physical presence and we are delighted to have him on board having tracked him for so long".
"Unfortunately, the books had to be balanced so we allowed Jack to join Leicester. They have been in my ear about him all season and the fact is that he needs football and we are not in a position to give him that at the moment. He isn't the biggest of lads, is he, and I've always said you need to be as much - if not more - of an athlete as you are a footballer these days. We wish him all the best for the future, but sometimes a young player has to fly the nest to make his name".
February 3rd, 2012
Quotes from someone claiming to be Stephane Sessegnon's agent appear on Sky Sports News. The report claims that Sessegnon is "absolutely steadfast in his decision not to return to Sunderland", citing "irrevocable difficulties in settling at the club".
February 24th, 2012
Following weeks of being AWOL, Sessegnon completes a £4m transfer to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala. Bruce expresses his disappointment in the player, insisting that he let the club down. "The boy wanted to leave and, in my experience, once a player has made up his mind there is no point in trying to keep him. I have always said I wouldn't stand in the way of any player leaving if they didn't want to be here".
March 4th, 2012
Things take an incredibly ugly turn as a Papiss Cissé hat-trick condemns Sunderland to a Sports Direct Arena battering for a second year running. The 4-0 result plunges Sunderland to the bottom of the table on goal difference, and humiliated fans bellow for Bruce's immediate sacking.
March 6th, 2012
Rumours are rife again over Bruce's future. There is not a soul left in the support with anything but resentment towards him, and the board once again convene to consider their options. Later that day, it is reported that the lack of a quality and available replacement has proven the telling factor in the board's decision to back Bruce.
March 31st, 2012
Now 4 points adrift at the bottom, Bruce takes Sunderland to Manchester City. But the title-chasers brush the Black Cats aside with ease, romping their way to a 3-0 win with two late goals. Meanwhile, recently free-transfered Matthew Kilgallon makes the headlines as he sets up Coventry's winning goal at Hull with an outrageous Rabona.
April 10th, 2012
Having seen themselves fall 7 points adrift of safety following a lacklustre defeat to bogey-club Everton, Sunderland announce that Steve Bruce and his assistant Eric Black have left the club by mutual consent. Kevin Ball will take over team affairs until the end of the season.
April 11th, 2012
An emotional Niall Quinn appears on SAFC TV to reveal his decision to leave the club. "It has been an emotional ride, but I feel my tenure here is at an end. When I took on this project all those years ago, I believed that I could be the man to restore this club to the top half of the Premier League and make them relevant to English football once again. It will always be a lasting regret of mine that I was not up to that task. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the club's wonderful fans for their support and extend my sincerest apologies that I was not as good as I needed to be".
Meanwhile... a Martin O'Neill-inspired Wolves team chasing a top half finish prepares to put Sunderland out of their misery at The Stadium of Light and all but confirm relegation...
So there we have it. Sunderland in a hopeless relegation scrap all season, James McClean out on loan toiling away in League One, Jack Colback sold to raise money to sign a journeyman veteran striker, Fraizer Campbell back on crutches, Stephane Sessegnon fleeing to Russia, Niall Quinn's tenure remembered as an expensive failure, and Martin O'Neill's talents employed elsewhere. Scary stuff.
Can anyone tell me this wouldn't have been a likely scenario?