Steve Bruce says Stephen Clemence might have been a victim of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ after his successful reintroduction to Birmingham City’s first team.
Birmingham head to Coventry City tonight after three consecutive victories that has swept aside the gloom threatening to envelop St Andrew’s.
While disagreement with West Bromwich Albion over Paul Robinson’s challenge on Damien Johnson simmers, Bruce will look to Clemence to continue his rich vein of form.
Johnson will be sidelined for up to eight weeks with a broken jaw, so Clemence will play a pivotal role in ensuring Birmingham’s renaissance continues apace.
A victory tonight would enhance their Championship promotion credentials but a defeat would catapult Coventry ahead of Blues and reawaken the harbingers of doom. Nevertheless, Bruce will be happy to put his faith in Clemence despite jettisoning him on frequent occasions since his arrival at the club in January 2002.
After the resilient midfielder spent a large chunk of the campaign twiddling his thumbs, Bruce played his last throw of the dice against Derby County by recalling him and has reaped rich dividends. "Stephen Clemence has been a great pro and one of my best signings," Bruce said.
"Sometimes familiarity can breed contempt and certainly, in his case, it could do and maybe I overlooked him and took him for granted. He has never knocked on the door when he’s not playing although he’s upset.
"When we threw the challenge down to him, we knew he was never going to let us down because of his honesty. I though he was terrific on Saturday against Albion and he set the scene. I thought he led from the front. He made more tackles than anyone in the first 20 minutes.
"Arguably, Clemence and Robbie Savage were our best midfield pairing in the Premiership and he has certainly been a great servant."
While Clemence’s future looks rosy now that Bruce has reverted to his trademark style, the immediate diagnosis for Johnson is not as impressive. The feisty midfielder could face an operation to repair his broken jaw and will be absent until the New Year.
Despite Albion’s protestations, Bruce is steadfast in his belief that Robinson set out to deliberately harm his captain. "I accept elbows if people get caught by them jumping for the ball and I accept knocks but I know when I see the incident that he has left one on him - it is as simple as that," Bruce said unequivocally.
"I have got the highest respect for [Albion manager] Tony Mowbray, West Brom and the player (Robinson) himself who I think is the best left-back in the league by a country mile.
"In my opinion, he has left his arm there and unfortunately Johnson faces at least eight weeks out.
"I don't think in my ten years as a manager I have ever criticised an individual from another team, but it was a disgraceful challenge. I'm not going to get involved in a slanging match with Tony or anyone at Albion. I am entitled to my opinion and I will let others in higher places than me make their mind up, which I hope they do.
"He has got two different fractures of the jaw. We are waiting for a specialist’s report to see if he needs an operation in terms of wiring.
"That is the consequence and I feel worse today than I did on Saturday. What best sums Damien up is going back on the pitch for at least ten minutes. However, afterwards when he said something wasn't right, you feared the worst.
"I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach when he went to hospital that something was damaged, because he doesn't complain about anything. He is as tough as they come."
Birmingham ‘s flock is expected to number at least 4,000 inside Coventry’s plush stadium, which should be the catalyst for a pulsating derby.
"They have lost only once at the Ricoh this season," Bruce said. "The pleasing thing for me is that our supporters are queuing for tickets. They saw the performance on Saturday and we have done all right away from home so I hope we match the performances we have shown in the last week."