Bruce waits on Dugarry's injured knee

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The Independent Football

Steve Bruce will decide next month whether Christophe Dugarry's long-term knee problem makes the extra 12-month option on his contract too much of a risk.

Dugarry, who is suspended for tonight's home Premiership match with Middlesbrough, is back in his native France recuperating after the knee flared up once more against Aston Villa 10 days ago.

The situation contrasts sharply with that of a year ago when the World Cup-winner helped the Blues to eight wins in 11 games to secure their top-flight status and earn a one-year deal. Bruce is hoping Dugarry can recover and regain the form of last season but he is also aware that the wear and tear on his knee may have taken too much of a toll.

Bruce said: "It is a huge concern for us. When Christophe came off against Aston Villa he had that look of a dejected person.

"The whole frustration has been there for everyone to see and it is up to us to try and help him and stay loyal to him. But my job is to do the best possible thing for Birmingham City. I believe he has got three to four months left of his present deal and then there's an option agreement for next season.

"We will be making a decision on that in the next four to six weeks. Let's see what happens. We expect him to report back with us at the end of the week and we'll see what condition he is - not just physically but mentally too. It is too early to go down that road of whether it is career-threatening or not."

Bruce will show as much patience as he can with Dugarry after his heroics in the second half of last season. He said: "I don't think this club has ever seen before what he did for us last season and he single-handedly, for me, kept us in this division. He inspired us to win seven or eight of our last 11 games, which is why we are in the Premier League today, and I genuinely hope he can recover and reproduce some of that in the next few weeks."

Bruce will be looking for his side to put their dismal performance in the FA Cup exit by Sunderland a week ago behind them when they face the newly crowned Carling Cup-winners.

"They will be on a high, and from our point of view everyone was absolutely gutted after the Sunderland game, from the top of the club to the supporters," he said. "We badly let ourselves down. There was no excuse for it. But the one thing we have done before, after a bad result, is bounce back. It's how you respond and the players can't wait to get back out on to that pitch to try and put things right.

"We've now got three home games on the spin, including the two games in hand we have on everyone else, and it's a wonderful opportunity for us."

Bruce is down to his last 16 available players for tonight's game. The midfielder David Dunn has joined a casualty list containing Dugarry, Jamie Clapham and Stan Lazaridis with his recurring hamstring problem, while Aliou Cissé is suspended for his red card at Sunderland in the FA Cup tie.

But the central defender Matthew Upson is fit after missing the last three games with an ankle problem, while Martin Taylor is available after being cup-tied against the Black Cats.

Bruce's Middlesbrough counterpart, Steve McClaren, has no injury worries but is likely to freshen up his side after their exertions in Cardiff.

His second-choice goalkeeper, Carlo Nash (hand), and Malcolm Christie (broken leg) remain on the long-term casualty list and McClaren will select from the Cup final squad of 21.

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