Bruce backs his old friend Allardyce in tackling debate

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has launched a passionate defence of his Blackburn counterpart, Sam Allardyce, amid the ongoing debate over reckless tackling.

The two managers will go head-to-head at Ewood Park tonight with Allardyce's approach having been questioned by the Fulham midfielder Danny Murphy, who singled out Blackburn, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Stoke City for criticism over the physical nature of their play. On Saturday, Murphy insisted his comments had been "blown out of all proportion".

Bruce and Allardyce are close friends and, although the Black Cats manager knows exactly what to expect when he sends his team into battle with Rovers, he insists Allardyce's reputation is unwarranted. "I think I speak for Sam and every other manager, none of us want to go and send a team out that will physically hurt anybody else – that is absolute nonsense," Bruce said.

"I don't know where Danny's comments have come from or why he has chosen to do that. His manager, Mark Hughes, for instance, had a Blackburn team that was very competitive. This Premier League is the way it is and the biggest spectacle that is beamed around the world because of the competitive nature of it, and if we take that away, we will just end up like everybody else."

Allardyce forged his reputation at Bolton and, following a brief and ultimately disastrous spell in charge at Newcastle United, has rebuilt it at Blackburn.

Bruce said: "We know what to expect. You all know I am a big friend of Sam and enjoy his company, and whenever you are up against his teams, you know physically if you don't stand up and be counted against them, you will be caught short. He has done fantastically well to finish 10th again with Blackburn on really limited resources and selling all the players he has.

"We have stood up to the challenge of playing against the really good football teams, now it's another challenge and that's what the Premier League is. I hope we can handle it and cope with it, play our stuff and, hopefully, come out on top."

For Sunderland, their striker Darren Bent is trying to shake off his groin injury that he picked up on England duty.

David Dunn is expected to play some part for Blackburn after recovering from a hamstring strain but Vince Grella is still missing with the same problem. Keith Andrews is also out after having surgery, while Ryan Nelsen is a doubt.