Hull City announced today that Steve Bruce had signed a new three-year deal to continue his management of the club, on the same day that the Premier League announced that he was a nominee for February’s Manager of the Month competition. Interviewed about his new contract, all the talk from Bruce was about the future. The ex-Manchester United man spoke of his desire to establish the club as a solid Premier League side, improve the teams academy and start to bring through some of the clubs own talent over the next few years. But after 2 years and 9 months at the helm at the KC Stadium, it seemed like a worthwhile time to cast one’s eyes over Bruce’s time in East Yorkshire.
The Allams appointment of Bruce in June 2012 was greeted with a mixed response from the Tigers faithful. His stock was in decline after receiving the sack at Sunderland and he faced the not so simple task of replacing a Hull City legend in the form of Nick Barmby. Barmby replaced the departed Nigel Pearson on a temporary basis before being persuaded into hanging up his boots in order to take on the job full-time, and there was a bitterness surrounding his sacking. After narrowly missing out on a play-off finish, the ex-England international was dismissed, the owners claimed, on the grounds of misleading comments made to the press. Hull-born, Barmby joined the Tigers when they were in League One back in 2004 and was an integral part of their meteoric rise to the Premier League in just four year. As such, he had earned legendary status and his acrimonious departure hurt a lot of fans.
Despite this upheaval, there was of course no blame attached to the new manager. There was a reported three year plan in place for Bruce to take the club back into the Premier League and with a young, hungry squad and reasonable resources, this did not seem wholly unlikely. In a busy first transfer window, Bruce recruited Nick Proschwitz, Abdoulaye Faye, Sone Aluko, Stephen Quinn, Robbie Brady, David Meyler, Eldin Jakupovic, Ahmed Elmohamady, Ben Amos and his own son, Alex Bruce. Such an influx of players was a little surprising given that the young squad Bruce inherited had only narrowly missed out on a top six finish and had surely gained valuable experience. Hull’s early season form, up until December, could be categorised as inconsistent, but a good number of wins meant they were in the mix at the top end of the division, despite losing 7 of their first 19 games.
In December, the team really kicked on and Bruce picked up the Manager of the Month award in a six match run which saw Hull win five and draw once. The run put the Tigers into the automatic promotion places, and they managed to find much greater consistency in the second half of the campaign to stay there. The team’s only blip would come at the most crucial time of the season, the end. Hull lost two and drew two of their last four, making for one of the most dramatic and memorable final days of a Championship season in history. After Nick Proschwitz failed to convert his last minute penalty and Nicky Maynard succeeded in finishing his, Hull needed a favour from fellow-Yorkshire club Leeds United at Vicarage Road. Leeds won the game and Bruce had taken the club to the Premier League in his very first season, a remarkable achievement and well ahead of schedule.
Bruce did not sit still in the transfer market yet again, as he had to ready his team to face England’s elite, and a further eight new faces came through the door at the KC Stadium. The most notable being the double signing of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore from Tottenham, Huddlestone costing a reported £5.5 million whilst Livermore came in on a season-long loan. Huddlestone in particular appeared to be a signal of intent by Bruce, and the rest of the league appeared to take note. Bruce repeatedly spoke of ten wins being what was required for the club to retain Premier League status, and after a famous 3-1 win over Liverpool on December 1st, Hull were half way there. Another famous win followed, a 6-0 thumping of Fulham at the KC Stadium, by far the biggest top flight win in the club’s history and it re-iterated Bruce’s rhetoric of “beating the teams in-and-around us.”
Whilst making history in the league, a number of favourable FA Cup draws had seen the Tigers quietly advance to the latter stages of the competition. A victory over their first Premier League opponents of the tournament, Sunderland, took Hull City to Wembley for another favourable tie against Sheffield United. After a shaky first half, the Tigers twice came from behind to record a 5-3 victory and would meet Arsenal in the cup final. Already a first FA Cup final for the club, the pressure was most assuredly on the opposition and there were jubilant scenes when James Chester gave them the lead after just 4 minutes. Jubilation became delirium when Curtis Davies doubled their lead after 8 minutes. Unsurprisingly, there was a big response from Arsenal and in extra time Aaron Ramsey struck the crucial and heartbreaking blow. Despite the disappointment, Arsenal’s Champions League qualifications meant another first for the club, embarking upon European football in the Europa League.
Despite a drop in form towards the tail end of the season, Hull survived in relative comfort. January additions Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic had formed a promising partnership and hopes were high for the club to keep building. Bruce was even busier still in the next transfer window and saw eleven additions join the squad ahead of what could prove a tricky fixture list, trying to compete in four competitions. Failure to reach the group stages of the Europa League meant such problems did not arise but there was slight animosity towards Bruce for the first time in his two year tenure as some fans felt he had disregarded a rare opportunity for the club to challenge Europe’s elite in a European adventure. The league season began with promise but a simply dreadful run from early November through until mid-February, largely put down to a horrific injury crisis throughout much of this period, saw the club deep in the mire and the first real test of Bruce’s resolve.
In January, Bruce brought in a new assistant manager in the form of Mike Phelan and a new striker, Dame N’Doye. Both were a cause of optimism in East Yorkshire; it was clear to see fresh ideas and a goalscorer were required, and in these two Bruce hopefully had the answer. A draw at Manchester City followed before back-to-back home wins against relegation rivals Aston Villa and QPR suggested such optimism had been justified. A very poor display and defeat at Stoke and a disappointing draw at home to Bruce’s former club, Sunderland, tinged the optimism although the team remained 5 points clear of the drop. Hull have a nasty looking run-in coming between now and May and are far from safe. Crucial games against Leicester and Burnley could define their season, the first of which comes this Saturday at the King Power Stadium.
Bruce is already considered by most to be the finest manager in the clubs 111-year history. Should he keep Hull City in the Premier League once more he would set another record, as the first manager to keep them in the league for three seasons. Promotion, Premier League survival and an FA Cup final, twinned with a refreshing honesty and a clear passion for the game have made Bruce eminently likable to almost all Hull City fans. Bruce is not a man without faults, but he is a man who acknowledges his faults. His honesty and approachable nature could not be further removed from his recent predecessor, Nigel Pearson. Even when the club were undergoing their poorest run of form, Bruce’s name rang out around the stands and fans chose this opportunity to erect a banner proclaiming ‘In Bruce We Trust’. Not only does Bruce have the faith of the fans but also the owners. Much maligned for some of their decision making, the Allams relationship with Bruce and confidence in him has been one matter that has been unanimously celebrated.