Bruce now eyes 60 as he celebrates his 50th

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Sunderland manager Steve Bruce did not know whether to laugh or cry as he celebrated his 50th birthday with his side sitting in seventh place in the Barclays Premier League table.

The former Manchester United defender could scarcely believe it as he reached his personal landmark yesterday, although preparations for today's clash with Blackburn were his overwhelming focus.

Bruce's young side has enjoyed a fine first half of the season with a stunning 3-0 victory at Chelsea just about cancelling out the memories of an horrific 5-1 derby defeat at Newcastle.

But for a shock 2-0 home defeat by Blackpool on Tuesday, the Black Cats could have been in an even healthier position, and Bruce is hoping for more of the same in 2011.

He said: "We could have been because we had a magnificent chance against Blackpool, and anybody witnessing the game would have said how the hell have we not won that?

"But we didn't. It could have got us into a fabulous position – 30 points going into the New Year's Day fixture would have been a fantastic achievement.

"If you can double that, if you can do exactly the same in the second half and get to 60 points, you are there or thereabouts to be where we are at the moment in the league, usually anyway.

"That's the challenge to us now – can we go and repeat it?"

If they do, Sunderland could quite easily find themselves in the mix in the hunt for European qualification, something they have never before achieved via the league.

But despite amassing 27 points to date, Bruce knows they cannot afford to let up with the table unusually tight this season.

He said: "The bottom 10 are separated by something like four or five points now, which is quite remarkable. Usually, you have one or two adrift at this point and you think they have a lot to do."