Wigan boss Steve Bruce jumped to the defence of Lee Cattermole after the player's first-half challenge on Middlesbrough's Didier Digard sent the Frenchman to hospital with a thigh injury.

Boro midfielder Cattermole incurred the wrath of both the home fans and players but referee Mike Dean's decision to take no action appeared to be vindicated by subsequent television replays.

Bruce said: "We don't want to see players carried off but sometimes it happens. The tackle by Cattermole was for me, and I think later proved on television, to be a perfectly fair challenge."

He added: "It was a strong challenge but that's what Lee Cattermole is all about. He doesn't want to deliberately hurt people but he's a strong tackler and he epitomises this team. I thought the referee handled it well."  

While the point keeps Bruce's men flying high in the top half of the table he admitted it will be hard for his side to sustain their run to the season's end following the January losses of Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey.

The Latics will also be without hamstring injury victim Antonio Valencia for three weeks and Bruce added: "We had a really good team going into January but with the losses of Palacios and Heskey it's a big part of the team.

"It's that little bit of cutting edge that we've had and we're trying to get it back.

"It's not going to be easy but I thought we might have gone on to win it.

"We showed great resilience and thoroughly deserved what we got."

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