Manchester City 0 Wigan Athletic 0: Performance of protégé Palacios boosts Bruce's survival hopes

Guy Hodgson
Monday 03 March 2008 01:00
Stephen Ireland at City in 2008
Stephen Ireland at City in 2008

Steve Bruce is in a minority. Whereas many managers seem to find it difficulty to reach a rapport with Arsène Wenger, he gets on splendidly with the Arsenal manager to an extent he even gets tips about players.

Bruce estimates he has borrowed or bought around eight players from Arsenal in his time as a manager and when he was at Birmingham City he tried for another. "I was trying to sign one of Arsène Wenger's central midfielders to be honest," he said. "He phoned back and said I've had a player here for five days, I've got eight midfield players, and he looks like he has something."

That player was Wilson Palacios and when Birmingham did not take up the option to turn the Honduran's loan spell into a permanent transfer last year, Bruce, who moved to Wigan Athletic in the meantime, swooped. "It's the best million euros I've spent," he said. "He's desperate to do well and it's a delight to work with him."

Palacios, 23, a midfielder who Bruce has likened to a young Paul Ince, was one of the reasons why Wigan came out of a potentially difficult game with an important draw. He and Michael Brown formed a defensive screen and with Paul Scharner and Mario Melchiot outstanding in a hugely obdurate back four they squeezed the enterprise out of Manchester City.

Palacios might even have won the game but was too high with an acrobatic volley eight minutes from time. Given that he is playing carrying personal problems – his brother Edwin has been kidnapped in Honduras since November – the miss was forgivable.

Wigan's performance was not pretty but it was hugely effective, as Bruce acknowledged. "We set our stall out a bit," he said, "but when we walked through the door three months ago Wigan were averaging two goals a game and you can't win a school league if you are conceding at that rate. The coaching staff have worked hard to make sure we're difficult to beat."

City certainly found them so, but then it seems the only people Sven Goran Eriksson's side can defeat at the moment are Manchester United. Teams now arrive at the City of Manchester Stadium with a plan to deny Elano space and, with Benjani Mwaruwari looking like another expensive City striker finding it difficult to score, their hopes of qualifying for Europe are diminishing. This was their sixth game out seven that they have failed to win.

They face Reading on Saturday while Bruce will have the opportunity to renew acquaintance with Arsenal the following day. "It'll be very difficult," Bruce said, "but if we play like we did today we can compete with anybody." Wenger may yet regret his generosity.

Manchester City (4-4-1-1): Hart; Corluka, Dunne, Onuoha, Ball; Vassell, Fernandes, Johnson, Ireland (Castillo, 63); Elano (Caicedo, 49); Benjani. Substitutes not used: Isaksson (gk), Hamann, Garrido.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Scharner, Edman; Valencia, Brown, Palacios, Koumas; King (Sibierski, 66), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Bramble, Olembe, Bent.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent)

Bookings: Wigan Brown.

Man of the match: Scharner.

Attendance: 38,261.

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