Black Cats muscling in on old favourites

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The Independent Online

Steve Bruce is convinced he will be given the time to turn Sunderland into a genuine Premier League force.

The 48-year-old has made a fine start to his career on Wearside, steering the club into eighth place after 13 games and sending them into Saturday's trip to Wigan only two points adrift of fifth-placed Aston Villa.

That has come courtesy of a run of results which has seen traditional top-four clubs Liverpool and Arsenal both lose at the Stadium of Light, and Manchester United only clinch a point at Old Trafford with a late own goal.

After two seasons struggling to survive in the top flight, spirits have soared with the Black Cats threatening finally to establish themselves at the highest level and end their recent yo-yo existence.

Bruce, backed by the millions provided by owner Ellis Short which funded summer swoops for the likes of leading scorer Darren Bent, midfielders Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole and defender Michael Turner, is confident that aim can be achieved, provided he is given the time to do it.

He said: "The first thing I need is time, and I'm convinced I will get that given the people I work for. I say that even though I have only known them for a short period. They are good people to work for and I'm determined to make sure we have a team that everyone is proud to be associated with. I believe we are making progress.

"I will be judged as a manager over a period of time. I don't want to be judged on the fact that we can do well against the top four – I hope I will be judged over time and that people will look back and say I did a decent job over my years with Sunderland."

Bruce will return to familiar territory this weekend when he takes his side to Wigan, the club he left to head back to his native north-east during the close-season, for the first time.

However, he will do so with injury and suspension problems limiting his choices in attack. Bent, who scored his ninth of the season against the Gunners, is struggling with a hamstring problem which could yet sideline him for three weeks, while Kenwyne Jones completes a three-match ban.

Bruce, however, does have teenage midfielder Jordan Henderson, who passed another major test on Saturday against Arsenal as his blossoming career continued on its upward curve. The 19-year-old was asked to stop Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas at the Stadium of Light, and was rewarded for his efforts when the Black Cats emerged with a famous 1-0 victory.

It was the first time this season the Gunners had failed to score and while Bruce was not keen to single out individuals, he was delighted with Henderson's contribution. "We played him against Fabregas so that shows the faith I have got in the kid," Bruce said. "We know Fabregas seems to be able to run effortlessly, I think he is the top midfield player in the Premier League. We asked Jordan to stay with him and he did it manfully."

Henderson emerged from the Academy ranks during pre-season and has been involved in all but one of the club's 16 games to date, a run which last month earned him a new four-year contract. Five of his eight starts have come in the last five games and the youngster will hope that run continues as he and his team-mates prepare for the trip to shellshocked Wigan, who are still coming to terms with their 9-1 drubbing at Tottenham on Sunday.

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