Whelan critical of Bruce
STEVE BRUCE might have a reputation for unearthing top talent but, ahead of this weekend's return to Wigan, his former employer last night claimed the Sunderland manager made some dodgy signings during his tenure. Bruce had two spells in charge of Wigan, where he felt he had a decent working relationship with the club's owner Dave Whelan before leaving for Wearside in June. But that relationship was tested when Whelan put a large portion of the blame for the Latics' embarrassing 9-1 drubbing at Tottenham down to Bruce. Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, saw Tottenham turn a 1-0 half-time lead into one of the most one-sided Premier League results since the division's inception. Whelan, however, was in no mood to blame the Spaniard, who he attracted to the DW Stadium from Swansea in the summer, and chose to be critical of Bruce ahead of his first game at Wigan since leaving. Roberto is Wigan's manager and I have complete faith in him and I know the supporters have, said Whelan. He has got a difficult time, he inherited a team that was a little bit weak on reserves when Steve left. Steve actually had a few dodgy signings just before he left Wigan and he has inherited those dodgy signings so I can't blame Roberto one iota. I am absolutely 100 per cent behind Roberto, he's a great manager and he will pull this team around. Whelan's comments arrived just two days after Bruce's revamped Sunderland team secured a memorable 1-0 win over Arsenal at the Stadium of Light. But rather than consider the merits of finishing in the top eight this season, Dutch winger Bolo Zenden feels the next six weeks will be crucial in determining the calibre of Bruce's next transfer targets. After ending a four-match winless run, the Black Cats have lifted themselves to within a point of fifth-place Aston Villa. Bruce has made no secret of a desire to bring more players in, having sold more than he had intended during his first summer in charge, and Zenden wants to make that task easier. To finish in the top six would be a very big achievement for Sunderland, said Zenden, who left Middlesbrough in 2005. But if we could get into the top eight that would be a really good finish as it would possibly bring a European spot as well. That is more likely than the top six for us if we look at it now, but you never know. Saying that, it's still early days. I always say, when you go into December, anything can happen because you play so many games in a short space of time. It's better to have a look where you are when you get into January. If we do well in December, which is a vital month, we also know players are more likely to join us in the transfer window and see we are high in the table. Zenden was the last of Bruce's seven recruits when he signed last month after his release from Marseille, but that does not reflect the true height of the changes at the Stadium of Light. The Sunderland manager allowed seven players to move on permanently, while he also granted seven further members of his squad to head out on loan. We are confident the team will progress this season, said Zenden. It's a new look side with a lot of new players in it but we have gelled quickly. It's not only the fact we have had some good results, it's the fact we have laid down performance as well after some poor results. Darren Bent, who scored the winner against Arsenal to take his tally to nine goals, had treatment yesterday on the problem which he limped off with at the end of Saturday's win. Bruce, who feared he might have injured his hamstring, is expected to reveal the extent of the damage later today, although the signs are believed to be encouraging.
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