Bruce brings teen in to boss Sunderland forward line


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The Independent Football

For the second time in his football career, Steve Bruce is hoping to give the lie to the Alan Hansen dictum about winning nothing with kids.

Over the course of the 1995-96 campaign he was the veteran captain of the Manchester United team that successfully blended youth and experience to beat Newcastle to the Premier League title. Over 90 minutes at the Reebok Stadium this afternoon Bruce will be praying 18-year-old Connor Wickham can help to secure a victory that would relieve much of the pressure that has been mounting on the Sunderland manager.

Having won just once in their opening seven Premier League fixtures, Bruce's side are knocking on the door of the bottom three. Defeat at Bolton would probably push them over the threshold and in an attempt to avert that prospect the Sunderland manager is expected to give a first start to the teenage striker he signed from Ipswich for £8m in June.

"He has knocked on the door, asking what he has to do to get a chance," Bruce said of Wickham, who has made six cameo appearances off the bench. "He has not exactly said 'play me' but has asked what he has to do to get in. He will play a part to the season, without question. He has got all the physical attributes. He has got everything in the locker. But as I have said all along, he is young and I have had to protect him a little bit. I have not strayed from that but he is gradually learning and understanding what it is like to play in the Premier League. I think he needed a bit of time to settle into it."

Having deployed the diminutive Stéphane Sessègnon as a lone striker in the 2-1 defeat away to Arsenal last Sunday, Bruce is likely to start Wickham alongside Nicklas Bendtner, who was ineligible to play at the Emirates because of his loan status.