Bruce labels Dunne a steal at just 5m
SUNDERLAND boss Steve Bruce has billed this evening's encounter at Villa Park as a chance to see the two best signings of the season come face to face. Darren Bent's 20 league goals have put him on the verge of a place in England's World Cup squad, while Richard Dunne has been a key figure behind Villa boasting the best defensive record in the Premier League. Bruce will be boosted if an Achilles problem rules Dunne out this evening but John Mensah's knee injury threatens to disrupt his own defensive plans. Sunderland were close to agreeing terms with the Republic of Ireland centre-half last summer before Martin O'Neill tied up a £5m deal with Manchester City: a piece of business that Bruce labelled as an absolute steal. While Sunderland have conceded 46 goals during a campaign when Bruce has struggled to field a reliable central defensive partnership Dunne has led a Villa backfour that's conceded only 24 times in the league. We were very, very close to signing Dunne. At £5m he is up there with Darren Bent as the signing of the season, claimed Bruce. When you see the figures bandied around for how much defenders cost Dunne was an absolute steal. He's an experienced centre-back who's really improved Villa. The Sunderland manager cited the signing of former Newcastle United winger James Milner as another example of O'Neill's acumen in the transfer market, something Bruce hopes to emulate this summer. He said: I am in a position now with doing things so quickly that whatever the owner gives me as a budget will be for one or two players rather than six or seven like we've done. We will try and get the sort of quality like a Darren Bent brings you. That is what we must try to do. Martin has done that with addition of Milner. Everyone scratched their heads when he paid £12m but it looks like chicken feed now. Bloody hell you'd get double that now! That is what we are looking at doing. Martin has built a good team. They lost their first game of the season to Wigan and then dived into the transfer market to bring Dunne, James Collins from West Ham and Stephen Warnock, suddenly they've got a different defensive outlook. They have the best defensive record in the country bar none. With Kenwyne Jones expected to be rested ahead of Sunday's trip to Liverpool, Bent faces the task of breaking down the division's meanest defence as Sunderland's only recognised striker. Lorik Cana's return from suspension could tempt Bruce into fielding a five-man midfield with Kieran Richardson supporting the attack. I've got a huge decision to make. Cattermole and Henderson improved us on Saturday, he said. I should have made the change quicker than I did. Kieran's done exceptionally well, so has young Meyler. He's played five games now and never let us down apart from at Portsmouth I've been really pleased with him. Malbranque's unquestionably just played his best three games of the season. We need to be fresh for Liverpool so I have a team in mind for Villa and another for the weekend. SUNDERLAND (probable): Gordon; Hutton, Turner, Kilgallon, Ferdinand; Henderson, Cana, Cattermole, Malbranque; Richardson; Bent.
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