Bruce emerges as favourite to become Wigan manager

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The Independent Football

The Birmingham City manager, Steve Bruce, whose career at St Andrew's is in limbo amid the club's proposed takeover, emerged as the leading target to take over from the sacked Wigan manager Chris Hutchings yesterday after the Latics sought permission to approach him.

City's owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, had initially refused Wigan permission to speak to Bruce, as they had done when Bolton sought to employ him after Sammy Lee's departure. But Gold and Sullivan were expected to alter their stance, paving the way for talks between Bruce and Dave Whelan, who hired the Blues' manager for seven weeks in 2001. Whelan said, after Paul Jewell, who was in charge at Wigan until the summer, withdrew that talks with another prime candidate were under way.

Bruce has made no secret of his frustration with the impasse at St Andrew's, where the prospective new owner, Carson Yeung, has refused to sanction the new contract Bruce had agreed verbally with Gold and Sullivan during the summer. Bruce is aware he could be out of a job in January should the takeover by the Hong Kong businessman go ahead, though his talks with Yeung after the 3-2 home win against Wigan a fortnight ago were described as "positive" by the former Manchester United captain.

Bruce's seven-week spell at Wigan, after Whelan had sacked Bruce Rioch, ended when Crystal Palace acquired his services for what – before his swift move to Birmingham – was to be his attempt to lead them into the Premiership. Bruce took Wigan to the Second Division play-offs, where they lost in the semi-final to Reading.

"Dave Whelan played a big part in helping me get back in," Bruce has said. "I'd been out of work for a year and it's not that easy to get another job. Dave was very good to work for and what he and Paul Jewell have achieved is remarkable."

The pair still have a very good relationship and yesterday's developments saw the odds about Bruce taking over at Wigan significantly reduced. Jewell says he backs Joe Royle for the job while Stuart Pearce and Alex McLeish are also considered contenders.

Paul Ince, another candidate, appears to have distanced himself, insisting after his MK Dons side progressed on Tuesday to the southern section semi-final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy he had no desire to leave. He said: "I want to make a name for myself at MK Dons."