Bruce won't make excuses
AFTER failing to improve on a run of form that has now heralded just one win from their last eight Premier League matches, Sunderland manager Steve Bruce was last night in no mood to make excuses. Bruce was often animated in the Black Cats technical area at the Stadium of Light as Aston Villa climbed to third in the table with a comfortable 2-0 win. Goals from Emile Heskey and James Milner separated the teams as Sunderland failed to enjoy a turnaround in fortunes, having won just once since mid-October. But rather than play the blame game, Bruce was more realistic and accepted that the only way to end the rut is to do his job properly. The one thing we have to do we have struggled with injuries, suspensions and a bit of Lady Luck goes a long way is to stick at it in the Premier League. That's the way to get out of it, the only way, said Bruce. It's the Premier League, it is what it is all about. It's where you earn your money. We are on a poor run, there's factors behind it, but we have to get out of it. It's that simple. We made silly mistakes in the first half, they scored with their first shot at goal but we had the best chances. The second goal was a wonder goal, the game was finished then. That was from our own throw in as well, sloppy. Bruce was encouraged to see Lee Cattermole return from a serious knee injury last night, but was then knocked again after captain Lorik Cana was handed a red card which rules him out of Saturday's trip to Manchester City. But despite seeing Cana pick up his second ban of the season, along with two further yellow cards to the six he had beforehand, Bruce is in no mood to ask his skipper to curb his ways. If he was ever going to get sent off it was tonight, said Bruce. The referee's (Kevin Friend) performance was shocking first half. But Lorik can't go to ground on a yellow card like he did. But I ain't going to take the competitive edge away from him. He has to learn, he will be suspended and we will miss him. Bruce revealed that Cattermole will now not play in tonight's reserve fixture with Hartlepool at Eppleton (kickoff 7pm) after his 20-minute appearance against Villa. And with Cana suspended on Saturday, Cattermole is likely to make his first start since rupturing knee ligaments against Liverpool in October. I watched Lee in training for a few days. I toyed with it and he looks alright to me, said Bruce, who will also assess the ankle injury sustained by Michael Turner last night. He looks physically fit. Do I play him an hour against Hartlepool or give him 20 minutes here Villa climbed above Arsenal into third with this victory and reaffirmed Bruce's belief that Martin O'Neill's squad could actually finish in the top four this season. I haven't changed my mind, said Bruce. They are big, strong, you look at the bench, they have unbelievable strength in depth. If there is a team I would like to emulate they were the one. While Sunderland stutter, Villa have improved their chances of finishing in the Champions League places this season even if O'Neill is playing down their chances. The Villans boss was extremely satisfied with the way his players suffered no after effects from the weekend victory at Manchester United, comfortably emerging with a further win last night. Milner's stunning 25-yard strike completed the victory after Heskey's first half opener. And O'Neill feels that Milner's performances in the centre of midfield, following the return to fitness of winger Stewart Downing, have reached new heights. I was worried about our energy levels after Manchester United but I didn't need to be, said O'Neill. I'm delighted with the performances, even more about the result. Milner has been fantastic since he arrived at the club and in centre midfield he is colossal for us. He is just exceptional. But on Villa's chances of breaking up the established big four, he said: Those four teams (Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool) over the course of a 38 game season will command those positions. Manchester City are strong, as are Tottenham. Bolton moved out of the relegation zone with a 3-1 victory over West Ham at the Reebok Stadium. Goals from Chung-Yong Lee, Ivan Klasnic and Gary Cahill sealed a vital three points for Wanderers, who moved above the visitors into 17th place. Alessandro Diamanti scored for the Hammers, who are now second from bottom and also suffered a blow when injury-plagued midfielder Kieron Dyer was substituted midway through the first period.
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