Bruce buoyed by big-match memories
Steve Bruce will approach his first Tyne-Wear derby buoyed by the memories of major successes at St James' Park as both player and manager. The Geordie-born Sunderland boss will make the short trip to Tyneside determined to add to his reputation of being something of an irritant to the club he grew up supporting. Bruce was a member of the Manchester United side which won 1-0 at St James' in March 1996 as the Magpies' seemingly inexorable march to the Premier League title unravelled, famously, along with then manager Kevin Keegan. He repeated the dose during his time in charge at Birmingham when the Midlanders headed north in January 2007 for an FA Cup third round replay and romped to a 5-1 victory. Bruce said: "The biggest one I can remember is '96 when they were trying to win the league and the wheels came off a little bit. We had to go up there with Manchester United and we beat them 1-0. "Eric Cantona scored. We were a bit fortunate on the night, I have to tell you, but it was a great atmosphere, a great noise and after that win, we knew we would catch them. They were stuttering. "I remember going there with Birmingham and beating them five in the FA Cup as well - that wasn't too bad either." Bruce has spent the last week warning his players not to be taken in by what is certain to be a white-hot atmosphere as the visitors attempt to defend their unbeaten seven-game league run, while Newcastle go in search of a first victory in five attempts on their own pitch. He knows from painful personal experience just how draining that can be. Bruce said: "I remember playing in my first semi-final at Maine Road against Oldham years and years ago and after 15 minutes, I was absolutely hopeless. "I couldn't breathe, I couldn't run, I couldn't do anything. "I shouted to big Pally [Gary Pallister] alongside me, 'Pally, you had better be up for it today because I'm struggling', and he was even worse. "But to be fair now, these lads are used to playing on the big occasions and hopefully we can handle the situation." Bruce has never even watched the two old rivals lock horns, and admits he cannot wait for a fixture which will stretch family loyalty to its limits. He said: "It's a big game coming up, they know it's a big game, and they will be supporting their son or their brother or their brother-in-law or whatever, I am convinced of that - or at least I hope I am. "I don't know why I have never been to one, but I left 30 years ago, so I have been away a long time and have never come back just to witness one." The game will be particularly poignant for former Magpies defender Titus Bramble, who has shed his error-prone tag in the years since he left the club. Bruce said: "When I spoke to Sir Bobby Robson about Titus - and I am talking years ago - Titus was Newcastle's centre-half when they finished in the top four twice and qualified for the Champions League, so he couldn't have been that bad. "He was young with a big price-tag, and the one thing about a defender, it is like an old wine, if you like, they get better with age because you get more experience. "Certainly, that is the case with Titus." Bramble and central defensive partner Michael Turner will have the task of trying to tame Newcastle's up and coming star Andy Carroll. He said: "I would love to have played against him. He's big and aggressive and strong, so we know what to expect. "Titus and Michael Turner will know that. I have to say, they are no shrinking violets either, so it should be a fantastic challenge for the two of them and it will be hard-fought, I am sure of that."
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