TOM HUDDLESTONE believes in-form Abel Hernandez is capable of being the 20-goal striker that can fire Hull City back into the Premier League.
The Uruguayan netted his sixth goal in eight Championship starts to earn a point for the Tigers from the trip to Sheffield Wednesday.
Following on from scoring for Uruguay in a 3-0 World Cup qualifier victory over Columbia during the recent international break, Hernandez’s form is a far cry from the struggles of his first season in England.
He netted just four times and only once in his final 24 appearances of last season for the Tigers to leave many questioning why Bruce had paid a club record £10m to bring the striker to the KC Stadium.
“Abel came back to pre-season in great nick,” said Huddlestone after Herndandez had moved to within two goals of Championship leading scorer Nick Blackman with the equaliser at Hillsborough.
“He has also got used to English football, which always helps. He is learning the language more each day and this season he knows he is the main man.
“Last season, he was in and out of the team but this season he is playing every game. That breeds confidence and gives you that little bit of sharpness that you need.”
When City last won promotion to the Premier League, Robert Koren finished as the club’s top scorer with just nine goals.
Invariably, however, a team who want to go up has at least one striker who nets 20 goals or more and Huddlestone believes Hernandez can be that man for the Tigers.
The midfield player added: “If you are going to get promoted you need one of your players in the late teens or early 20s (for goals). Hopefully, he can be the person to get up to that mark.”
Manager Bruce had considered resting the Uruguayan against the Owls after the striker had only flown back into Humberside Airport from international duty at 6pm on Thursday. The Tigers chief added: “I always knew he was a player. The first time I saw Abel play, he scored five times. He looked a quality player.
“I remember his debut (against West Ham 13 months ago) and we thought we had a world-beater on our hands. But he found last season difficult. A lot of foreign players do, to be fair.
“The thing Abel had to get used to was living in England. And learning the language. He looked, at times last year, lost.
“He hated the food and couldn’t do this or that. But now he is used to life here. He has learned the language and is able to join in with the boys.
“It was so strange compared to where he is from but he is getting there now and he now looks worth the money we paid for him.
“He looks a very good player at the moment, I can tell you that.”
Hernandez was linked with a possible return to Serie A in Italy during the summer following Hull’s relegation but Bruce added: “He didn’t really come close to leaving. Like everyone, he had a buy-out. So I did worry for a time. But, thankfully, no-one came in.”
Like Hull, Wednesday are unbeaten in six games after Saturday’s stalemate. Head coach Carlos Carvalhal said: “We are in a good way.
“Hull are probably one of the strongest teams in the Championship. They have a lot of experience in the Premier League. They have four or five players who play in the national team and they have a good coach.
“I said before the game it would be a challenge for us to see what we could do. I was very happy with how we played against a very strong team.
“This was a positive step. The Championship is a marathon. We know it’s important to beat the strong teams, but it is also important not to lose. We need points all the time.”
The game did have one controversial moment, when referee Keith Stroud waved away an appeal for a penalty after Keiran Lee had gone down under a challenge from Michael Dawson.
Carvalhal, however, did not want to discuss the matter afterwards. He added: “I never talk about referees. The game was on television and probably everybody had one opinion about it. But I will not speak.”
Veteran striker Bobby Zamora scored his first goal in 12 years for Brighton, where he shone from 2000 to 2003, to consign Leeds United to the worst home run in the club’s 96-year history.
His 89th-minute goal after returning to the Championship leaders on a free made it 2-1 to the visitors and left Leeds without a home win in 11 attempts.
Reports: Pages 2-4