Bruce reluctant to return Welbeck

The two men, who go head-to-head at Old Trafford on Boxing Day,

share the same birthday, New Year’s Eve, and the Black Cats boss is

keeping his fingers crossed that Ferguson may grant him his wish

after seeing loan signing Welbeck fire his side into the Premier

League’s top six after a 1-0 win over Bolton. Bruce, who admitted

the 20-year-old’s form was making it more difficult for him to

clinch a deal, said: “I always knew that was going to be a problem

anyway, deep down, but you never know. “Fergie has got a birthday

coming up shortly and he might get generous in his old age. I

somehow doubt it. “He’s a fantastic talent, isn’t he? You can see

that and he has benefited from playing regularly. “The good thing

about him is he has got an infectious enthusiasm about him. He

wants to play and train and he has been terrific. “Manchester

United have got a very good player on their hands.” Welbeck’s

32nd-minute strike was enough to claim the points on an afternoon

when Sunderland kept their 10th clean sheet of the season and their

ninth in the league, despite central defender John Mensah joining

Titus Bramble and Michael Turner on the sidelines with an ankle

injury which is like to rule him out for up to three weeks. Darren

Bent controlled a deep cross beyond the far post and saw his shot

parried by Jaaskelainen, but the Finn could only direct the ball

across goal when Welbeck stooped to head it home. Bolton came

agonisingly close to an equaliser on the stroke of half-time when

Gary Cahill headed Matt Taylor’s corner back across goal and Zat

Knight’s shot seemed destined for the back of the net until Craig

Gordon somehow got it up and over his crossbar. Bruce said: “I have

just seen it on the telly – does Jim Montgomery (1973 FA Cup final)

come to mind? It was a terrific save. “It’s certainly the save of

season and it will take some beating. I thought it was behind him

and to get it up and over the bar from there, it was a terrific

save.” Sunderland, who have not lost at home in the league this

season, were in little mood to relinquish that record after the

break and might have increased their lead with 20 minutes remaining

when Welbeck clipped the outside of the post after being set up by

Asamoah Gyan. Substitute Bolo Zenden could have wrapped up the

points at the death, but headed wide, although Cahill had earlier

seen a goal-bound shot blocked by Anton Ferdinand and Ivan Klasnic,

a second-half replacement for Martin Petrov, volleyed wastefully

wide at the death. Bruce, however, was quick to play down talk of

European qualification. He said: “I will dampen down [talk of]

Europe. My aim hasn’t changed: I just want to make us an

established Premier League team, and from what I can see, we are

gathering momentum very nicely.” Wanderers boss Owen Coyle was

disappointed by the result, but not the performance. He said: “Even

at 1-0, I still always believed we would get back into the game.

“We came out in the second half and in the last 25, 30 minutes, it

was like the Alamo. For a team with such a home record, they were

really on the back foot and we had numerous chances to get the

equaliser, but we never quite got it. “Am I disappointed? Only by

the result, not the performance because we put a team which is

unbeaten at home to the sword in the latter stages.” Coyle and

Bruce exchanged words shortly after the break after Lee Cattermole,

who had earlier been booked for a foul on Stuart Holden, caught

Johan Elmander late, but was spared a third red card of the season.

The Bolton boss said: “Did I feel he was lucky? There’s no doubt

about it. I know referees have a difficult job, but it was a clear

foul.”