‘Decent guy’ Bruce owed one last hurrah from Tigers squad

Hull City manager Steve Bruce shows his frustration at White Hart Lane. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce shows his frustration at White Hart Lane. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA.
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WHITE HART LANE is unusual for a big football stadium in that the press box is situated directly behind the technical area.

At times, it can make those among Her Majesty’s Press feel to be almost intruding into a domain that belongs to others. It also has the potential to leave those same scribes party to emotional outbursts that are not meant to be overheard.

My favourite came on a winter’s afternoon that saw Boaz Myhill almost single-handedly keep Spurs at bay in a goalless draw. After one save too many for the liking of Robbie Keane, the Irishman, by now having been substituted, turned round and shouted to no-one in particular: “Oh, for f***’s sake!”

On realising that his words had reached further than he intended, the former Leeds United striker re-took his seat quietly before looking round and giving a quick wink.

Such close proximity to the dugout on Saturday provided a ringside seat as Steve Bruce was put through the emotional wringer as his Hull City side slipped to another damaging defeat.

A year to the day on from proudly leading his players out at Wembley ahead of the FA Cup final, Bruce was back in north London but this time the stakes were arguably even higher as defeat to Tottenham could, if results had gone against Hull elsewhere, have all but extinguished any hopes of survival.

Bruce, as he had done in the Cup final, kicked every ball on the sidelines, urging his players forward in possession and then, when Spurs had the ball, frantically waving his arms like an overworked policeman directing umpteen lines of traffic at a junction where the lights have failed.

The odd exclamation left his lips, too. After one particularly poor passage of play, Tom Huddlestone was berated with the words, “Time to f****** relax, Tom. You, too, Elmo.”

A bad miss by Dame N’Doye in the second half following a goalmouth scramble brought a similar chastisement from Bruce, whose frustration then boiled over twice in quick succession in the closing stages when neither the Senegal international nor substitute Abel Hernandez reacted quickly enough to wonderfully enticing crosses from Ahmed Elmohamady and Andrew Robertson.

“Will you bloody get in there,” was his response on each occasion and it was hard not to feel for the City manager.

He has been dealt a tough hand this season. For all the money spent in the summer transfer window, Bruce has suffered horrendous luck with injuries.

Losing Robert Snodgrass, an £8m signing from Norwich City, just 40 minutes into the opening day win at QPR was bad enough.

Nikica Jelavic and Mo Diame have both had to have two knee operations in recent months, while plenty of others have had lengthy absences through injury.

Then, in the build-up to taking on Tottenham Hotspur, Jake Livermore was suspended after testing positive for cocaine. Bruce, a man who puts tremendous faith in his players, must have wondered just what he had done to deserve yet another bodyblow at such a crucial time.

One more, of course, may be waiting around the corner. Relegation will be confirmed if City fail to beat Manchester United on Sunday. The odds are stacked against Bruce’s men, even if Champions League qualification was booked by the Red Devils a little over a week ago.

Bruce’s record as a manager against his former club hardly inspires confidence, either. In 17 years of trying, he is yet to taste victory over United. Combine that with City having lost their last 10 meetings between the two clubs – the most recent of which was a truly awful surrender at Old Trafford in November – and there is unlikely to be too many outside Hull giving Bruce’s men a prayer.

No wonder Bruce left White Hart Lane on Saturday looking like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The City manager has tried to remain upbeat during this most difficult of seasons, no matter what travails have crossed his path. It is an admirable trait and one that comes naturally to one of football’s decent guys.

But, as the final whistle blew and he quickly embraced Mauricio Pochettino, Bruce’s face and demeanour betrayed his true feelings. He looked tired and, if not resigned, then at least wearily fearful that Hull’s fate could be sealed.

It is, of course, up to his players to prove otherwise. After some of the tepid displays he has had to endure this term – Burnley home and away, being perhaps the worst – the City squad owe Bruce one last hurrah.