Wigan Athletic 1 Manchester City 1: Bruce arrival gives Wigan backbone

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The Independent Online

From a distance, it may appear that the magic dust Sven Goran Eriksson has been sprinkling over Eastlands has immediately eluded the clutches of a man who used to be a colossus in Manchester's red half.

Steve Bruce, having seen Wigan Athletic resist Arsenal for 83 minutes when "hands-off" in the Emirates Stadium stand, watched here, very much the gaffer in the dug-out, as they were breached in 31 seconds.

Just as much as when Bruce was in charge at the JJB Stadium for 55 days in 2001, managers hanker after a strong spine, which made Titus Bramble's grotesque first-minute blunder, Emile Heskey's hamstring problem and the sending-off of the captain, Mario Melchiot, a recipe for possible distress.

That Wigan came out with the better of a draw, says something of their resilience and "new-boss momentum". It's all about foundations and encouraging pointers for teams following eight successive defeats and both were evident in a robust performance against opponents who on their travels remain a shadow of the force who carry all before them at home.

Without exaggeration, Chris Kirkland didn't have a save to make once Elano's replacement, Geovanni, had marked his rare start with an expert finish that had Bruce's head in his hands soon after his understated pre-match introduction.

City lacked any sense of adventure from then on and often much composure as Wigan's spirited response brought a deserved equaliser midway through the half from Paul Scharner, a player who had previously both helped and hindered Bruce.

The forceful Austrian chose Wigan ahead of Birmingham when moving from Norway two winters ago, citing their better prospects, then conceded a penalty in their costly 3-2 defeat at St Andrew's just before Bruce's switch.

Now comes the hint of a different opinion. "The manager has brought a new atmosphere to the team and training pitch," Scharner said. "We're doing more aggressive stuff. He wants to make us difficult to beat and to press the ball.

"I'm a very positive thinker but, if we don't change to playing football, it will be very difficult. A couple of times, we did vary it and were dangerous. I think it should be our target to play that way."

Whatever the approach, Heskey is key. The last time Wigan had taken so much as a point was the game in which he broke a metatarsal in mid-September but concern at his departure after 53 minutes was eased when Bruce revealed he was suffering only a tight hamstring. Melchiot will not return so soon following his red card for a two-footed lunge at Stephen Ireland.

City have now scored four times in six league trips since winning well at West Ham and the manager said: "If we want to stay where we are, we have to take more points away from home. With the quality we have, we should do more."

Goals: Geovanni (1) 0-1; Scharner (25) 1-1

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Kilbane; Valencia, Landzaat, Scharner, Koumas; Heskey (Taylor, 53), Bent. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Granqvist, Skoko, Cotterill.

Manchester City (4-5-1): Isaksson; Corluka, Dunne, Richards, Garrido (Ball, 36); Ireland, Geovanni (Etuhu, 69), Hamann, Fernandes, Petrov; Samaras (Bianchi, 79). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Jihai.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Wigan Bramble, Scharner; Manchester City Hamann, Ball.

Sent off: Melchiot.

Man of the match: Scharner

Attendance: 18,614.

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