STEVE BRUCE insists Hull City will not prioritise Saturday’s game with Fulham over today’s visit of champions Manchester United despite admitting his side will be expected to take points off the struggling London club.
The Tigers are about to embark on one of their most testing periods of the season, with the double-header at the KC Stadium inside 48 hours being followed by a New Year’s Day trip to Liverpool and the visit of Chelsea to the East Riding 11 days later.
Such a daunting schedule will test to the limit the hugely encouraging manner in which Hull have adapted to life back in the Premier League, Bruce’s men going into this lunchtime’s game against the Red Devils sitting 12th in the table with 20 points from 17 games.
With that in mind, some managers might be tempted to prioritise Saturday’s encounter with second-bottom Fulham by resting several of his first-choice XI against the reigning champions.
Bruce, however, is adamant that Hull must approach every game in the same way as he looks to make United the fifth name on a list of KC scalps that this term numbers Liverpool, Sunderland, West Ham United and Norwich City.
Bruce said: “After Boxing Day, the danger is it could be a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show. That is always a worry.
“The cameras are here (today), everyone is tanked up and the atmosphere will be terrific.
“Boxing Day is always a great occasion and with Manchester United coming to town the atmosphere will be buzzing. After that, it is back to Fulham and that is arguably the bigger game for us.
“The expectation will be on us to get something from that game, whereas the bookmakers won’t have us down for anything against Manchester United.
“But I won’t be prioritising Fulham. We will give it our best shot (in both games). To be honest, I am not blessed with a huge lot of options. We can’t make wholesale changes. We will, of course, have a look and see where we are.
“We have enough time to recover between Saturday and Thursday (New Year’s Day). Instead, the critical one is the 48 hours between Manchester United and Fulham.
“We will have a look at that. But it will be the same for Fulham (who travel to Norwich City today). Are they going to be brave enough to change four or five of their players? It is a difficult balance.”
Hull have enjoyed an impressive December with just one defeat in five outings. The 3-1 victory over Liverpool was the clear highlight, though draws against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion came courtesy of impressive away displays. Hull’s other game was a goalless draw with Stoke City at the KC.
That game may have been something of a disappointment, but it continued the Tigers’ impressive home form, which has this term seen Bruce’s men claim 15 points from eight games.
Hull have also been the stingiest defence in the Premier League on home soil with their backline having been breached just three times.
Asked why his team have been so effective at the KC, Bruce replied: “I don’t know really. That’s a good question, to be honest. I suppose we have to look at ourselves.
“We should pride ourselves on being difficult to play against. Our home form is good and that is vitally important because we needed it to be.
“Against Liverpool, we kept hold of the ball and were spot-on defensively. When you see (Luis) Suarez scoring the way he is, it shows you how well our defenders played on the day.
“The most important thing in that game is we played well ourselves and caused Liverpool a few problems.
“That is what we will have to do (against United). We can’t defend for 90 minutes, we have got to cause Manchester United a few problems if we possibly can.
“This season, we have played particularly well against the big teams and, touch wood, none of them have blown us away.
“We may have lost (away to Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Spurs) but we have been there or thereabouts in every game. Hopefully, we can do that again.”
With just two games remaining before the turn of the year, there can be little doubt that 2013 has been 12 months to savour for Bruce.
Promotion to the Premier League and an impressive return to the top flight means there is every confidence in Hull that the vastly experienced Tigers chief can keep the club out of trouble in the new year.
Bruce said: “For me, personally, it has gone particularly well. I have to thank the club for helping make this year so special because they gave me the opportunity.
“If someone had said 18 months ago that we would have got promoted and be joint 11th in the Premier League at Christmas, I would have said they were dreaming.
“So, it has been a fantastic year in that respect. I just hope we can sustain it.
“That is the thing with football, the hard part is always sustaining it. In management, these days, it is nice to have a good time. Let’s hope it continues.”
Today’s game will be the first time Bruce has faced referee Michael Oliver since the 1-0 league defeat at Tottenham Hostpur that led to the Hull manager being fined £10,000 by the Football Association for comments he made after the game about the official. Bruce was incensed by the late penalty award that led to Spurs netting the winner, but he insists that will not be a factor against United.
He said: “Things happen and we all make mistakes.
“He is a very good referee. Let’s hope he has one of his better days, not like he did against Tottenham.”
Out to end long wait: Page 22.