STEVE BRUCE is desperately hoping Steed Malbranque will rediscover the goalscoring form he showed in his Fulham and Tottenham days to help Sunderland through their injury crisis.
The 31-year-old was brought to the Stadium of Light by former manager Roy Keane in the summer of 2008 after making his name in the Premier League as a goalscoring midfielder.
But in the three seasons since Malbranque has managed only one Premier League goal — in a 4-1 win over Hull in December 2008 — and was one of the players guilty of missing golden chances on Saturday.
With Fraizer Campbell, Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan injured and all expected to miss the rest of the season, Saturday’s experience of playing without a striker is likely to be repeated, and Bruce is looking to his midfield for help.
The Sunderland boss said: “It’s quite incredible. I saw the other day that (Clint) Dempsey overtook Steed as Fulham’s all-time Premier League top goalscorer with 33 goals.
“He went to Tottenham and got goals, seven or eight a season, and to be fair that’s probably what Roy bought him for.
“He’s a fantastic little player who gives you everything he’s got but since he came to Sunderland I think he’s got one Premier League goal in three years. It’s a difficulty when you’re looking for a goal and somebody of his ability, when he’s running through you think surely this is the day. He didn’t take it.’’
Malbranque’s great opportunity came with the match still goalless when he charged down a clearance from Philippe Senderos but clipped his shot wide with only Mark Schwarzer to beat.
Ahmed Elmohamady, Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon could look back at similar chances while Fulham showed them how it should be done, with Gael Kakuta opening the scoring with his first goal in English football followed by Simon Davies’ second-half double.
The defeat was Sunderland’s eighth in a 10-game run that has seen them plummet from possible European contention to the fringes of the relegation battle.
With 41 points, Bruce’s side should be safe, but he admitted: “We’ve still got three games to go and we might need to pick up a few points.’’
Fulham’s victory, only their second away win in the Premier League since August 2009, lifted them to within three points of seventh-placed Everton — lofty heights considering Fulham’s start to the season of only two wins in 18 games. With matches against Liverpool, Birmingham and Arsenal to come, manager Mark Hughes has his sights set on a top-10 finish.
He said: “It’s important for the club and important for the team that we finish certainly in the top 10, and I think that’s an achievement in itself. If we can do that then that augurs well for next season”.
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