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By ESPN Staff

Bruce: Hes key to Wigan survival bid

Emile Heskey's return to fitness could not have been better timed for new Wigan manager Steve Bruce - who rates the England striker as one of the best in the Premier League. Bruce signed the former Liverpool and Leicester forward for Birmingham in 2004, and although his tally was not as high as it probably should have been he scored some important goals for Blues. Now Bruce has inherited Heskey in the Wigan squad he officially took charge of on Monday after his drawn-out move from the midlands, and his arrival has coincided with the big striker's recovery from a broken metatarsal. Heskey played 22 minutes in last weekend's late 2-0 defeat to Arsenal - his first action since limping off against Fulham on September 15 - and is now pushing for a place in the starting line-up. It is a significant boost to a club who have taken just one point from their last 10 matches and is currently 19th in the Barclays Premier League. 'Emile is fit and I am delighted about that. He was nearly fit last week so it was nice for him to get 20 minutes. He has worked very hard this week and he will be raring to go,' said Bruce. 'He is going to be paramount to us. I know what a big inspiration he can be to the team. 'I've worked with him before and people ridiculed me for paying all that money (£6.25million) for him years ago, and yet there he was as England's saviour a couple of months ago - and how we missed him the other week (in the Euro 2008 qualifying defeat to Croatia). 'I have always said, for his type, he is the best number nine in this country.' Although he was present at the Emirates last week Bruce was not in charge and has had very little time to assess his squad. However, he and new assistant Eric Black - who rejoined him from Birmingham yesterday - will have to have a plan ready when high-flying Manchester City arrive at the JJB Stadium tomorrow. 'I have to evaluate the squad very quickly because it is never easy to come into a job,' Bruce said. 'I said to them whatever has gone in the past is gone. Our season starts now. 'I have been very pleased with what I have seen. They have worked extremely hard, as they were expected to. 'They have responded in the right way and the proof will be in the pudding. 'We have got to start from scratch and do the basics but they had a real good go last week and that is all I require. 'If they continue to show that attitude, we have a bit of luck and stay injury free, we have got a chance.' Bruce has already suffered at the hands of Sven-Goran Eriksson's side this season, having seen Birmingham lose 1-0 last month, so he knows what to expect. But the Latics boss is also impressed by what the former England coach has achieved in a short time at Eastlands. 'He has had a tremendous start but I don't think we should all be shocked by that,' added Bruce. 'The reason Sven-Goran Eriksson got the England job was because of what he did in club football and we tend to forget that very quickly. 'He has assembled a good squad very quickly. Players like Martin Petrov and Elano will enhance the Premier League and it will be a tough challenge but one I look forward to.' As well as Heskey's return to fitness Bruce also hopes to have winger Antonio Valencia available after he sat out the Arsenal defeat with a knee problem.