Bruce fury over challenge

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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce has claimed West Brom left-back Paul Robinson's challenge on Birmingham skipper Damien Johnson was "just as bad" as Manchester City defender Ben Thatcher's outburst against Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes.

Johnson went to hospital for x-rays on a suspected broken jaw after the confrontation with the red-carded Robinson five minutes from the end of Birmingham's 2-0 win at St Andrews.

Robinson was quick to refute Bruce's claim there had been intent to cause any deliberate injury to Johnson but the City manager was in an unforgiving mood despite his side registering a third successive success in the space of eight days.

Bruce said: "I like Robinson as a player. I think he is the best full-back in the Championship but there is no need, especially in the light of what has happened in recent weeks, to mount a challenge like that.

"It was horrific, it was awful, it was intended. He knew what he was doing. It is too late for apologies.

"I don't think in my 10 years of management I've ever criticised any individual but the more I see that challenge, the more I am appalled by it.

"I have defended players and have been among players when we have had fisticuffs and fights down tunnels and all sorts of things. We all know what goes on.

"The big debate with the (Stephen) Hunt and (Petr) Cech incident rumbles on - but this one is as clear as you are ever going to see.

"We saw the Ben Thatcher incident a couple of weeks ago and, for me, this one is just as bad because Robinson has turned his whole body to make sure he gets his elbow through. That can only damage people."

Robinson, who now faces a three-game ban for violent conduct, protested his innocence and was stunned to be given his marching orders.

He insisted: "It was a 50-50 ball and I actually pulled out of the tackle because I saw Damien coming in with his foot up. I jumped out of the way to protect myself. That's the only reason my feet left the ground.

"Because of the speed at which we both went for the ball, there was no way I could get out of the way and I have a big bruise on my rib cage from the collision.

"The linesman, who was close to the incident, did not even flag for a foul and I was astonished when the ref showed me a red card.

"I hear that Damien has come off worse but there is absolutely no way I would deliberately hurt or 'do' a fellow professional. Anyone who knows me or has played with me, will vouch for that."

Support for Johnson came from Birmingham's two-goal hero Gary McSheffrey.

He said: "I know Paul Robinson quite well and he is an honest lad and will give his all and I think he went over the ball a bit and caught Damien Johnson in the face.

"But I don't think he would go to hurt anyone intentionally. He is a 100 per center, and if the ball is there to be won, he will try and win it.

"This time I think Damien got his head on to it and was on the receiving end of a hard tackle so it is just one of those things. It will be forgotten about soon."

Midfielder Stephen Clemence believes Birmingham have regained their pride after Bruce's future appeared to be under threat before the wins over Derby, Sheffield United and Albion.

He said: "The buzz is back and so is the pride. It's been a great week for the club and the buzz is back in the changing room. A week can sometimes be a long time in football but this was definitely a great way for us to turn it around.

"The manager has taken a lot of flak and we wanted that to stop. The players have responded in the right way to that and tried to put it right for him.

"When you go out to play you are not thinking about the comments that have been said about you and the manager - but you have your own pride.

"When there is flak coming that is because the players are not doing their job. At times we haven't done our jobs properly. But this week the whole squad knuckled down. We have won back that pride."