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By ESPN Staff
Feb 8, 2008

Bruce: Latics need 36 points to avoid the drop

Wigan Athletic manager Steve Bruce has set his team a 36-point survival target and believes he is halfway towards securing the Latics' top-flight status.

The Premier League strugglers kick-off a crucial fortnight on Saturday when they travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland, with whom they are locked on 23 points just above the relegation zone.

Last Saturday's 1-0 win over West Ham lifted Bruce's side out of the bottom three, and if they can take a positive result away from the north-east and then beat rock-bottom Derby two weeks later it would leave them well-placed in what appears an eight-team fight to avoid the drop.

Simply to be 15th at this stage represents a minor triumph for the former Birmingham boss, who took charge at the JJB with Wigan floundering on eight points from 14 games.

The 11 league matches Bruce has overseen since succeeding Chris Hutchings have yielded 15 points, and he is confident a similar haul from the final 13 games will lead the Latics to safety.

Asked how many points it will take to stay up this season, Bruce replied: 'With the teams involved, maybe 36.

'The good thing for us is that we've got ourselves into the pack and at one stage I didn't think that would be possible. But thankfully the lads have rallied around a bit and we've given ourselves a chance.

'Thirty six might be enough because the teams have all got to play each other as well. There are eight teams in there and when you've all got to play one another that restricts the number of points you can get.'

Bruce admits that to keep Wigan up would 'without question' be his greatest managerial achievement, but he has warned his players they have no right to start patting themselves on the back just yet.

'We can't get carried away, we've got 13 games left and we need the same return - if we get the same as we've got from the last 11 games then I think we'll stay up,' he said.

'So we've done okay by getting ourselves in there, giving ourselves a fighting chance, but we haven't achieved anything yet.'

on Saturday's 'six-pointer' sees Bruce come face to face with former Manchester United team-mate Roy Keane, now manager of the Black Cats.

Wigan have already put six unanswered goals past Sunderland this season in league and cup - the first 3-0 victory coming under Hutchings - but Bruce is adamant that will count for nothing in the heat of a match which means so much to both sides.

'Their home record has kept them where they are - they've won six games and that's an incredible record for a team down at the bottom,' he said.

'We've beaten them twice but I don't think that's going to have any significance at all.

'They are a threat at home, with a big crowd, and they've a couple of results lately, so we expect it be a cup tie atmosphere.'

Bruce believes, however, that it is too early to bill the match as a potential relegation decider.

'These are important games against the teams in and around you and we would all have targeted those games,' he said.

'It's important but it's not going to be crucial because there are still too many points left to play for.'