STEVE BRUCE is tonight ready to unleash Hull City’s big-money strike force for what he considers to be one of the most crucial games of his reign at the club.
The Tigers host Aston Villa in the first of a three-game home run that also sees QPR and Sunderland visit the KC Stadium, the sole fixture on the road being at Stoke City on February 28.
With just four points separating third-bottom Hull from the Black Cats in 14th place, a decent run of results over the next three weeks could go a long way towards propelling Yorkshire’s sole top-flight club towards safety.
Bruce, who has rubbished a weekend link with him taking over at Fulham, said: “This is arguably one of the biggest games I have had since I have been here.
“For a start, a win will take us out of the bottom three and we have to get out of there. This is a pivotal part of the season, thanks to the run of fixtures we have got.
“We have to reel in the teams who are four points above us. A win would be huge. With QPR coming up (on February 21), these are two huge games.”
Dame N’Doye, a £3m arrival from Lokomotiv Moscow on deadline day, is in contention for a place in the starting line-up.
With Nikica Jelavic and Abel Hernandez also bidding to be included after being left on the bench in the weekend draw at Manchester City, Bruce, who could also have Mohamed Diame back against QPR, finally has options up front.
He added: “We have had horrible problems, I can’t deny it. I was standing talking to (Manuel) Pellegrini on Saturday and he was saying how his team have suffered without one player. We are talking about one of the best teams in the world.
“Here was me thinking, ‘We’re little Hull and we have been without six or seven’. Jelavic, Diame, Michael Dawson, they are huge players for us.
“A new striker has come in just at the right time and now with a few getting fit, Diame round the corner, (Gaston) Ramirez looking the part, we have got a few options. At the top end of the pitch, that is going to be vital.”
N’Doye was a surprise inclusion on the bench at the Etihad after City received international clearance quicker than expected.
Bruce added: “We only picked him up at Manchester Airport at 10pm (on Friday). He went straight to bed.
“He then got up the next morning, he had his boots with him and I thought ‘why not?’ Let’s just get him up and ready as quick as we can. Talk about throwing him in at the deep end.
“N’Doye had played in the African Nations 10 days earlier, but he had then been in Paris for six days, waiting for international clearance. He has got a chance for Villa. I’ve just got to think about a few things and see where we are.”
The big contrast to last season for Hull has been an inability to take points off teams in trouble.
Last term, they claimed four points against all but Norwich City of the other clubs that finished in the bottom five. They also beat the Canaries at home.
This time around, Leicester City, Burnley and Aston Villa have all beaten the Tigers in their only meeting so far with Bruce’s men, who beat QPR on the opening day.
Hull’s knack of taking unexpected points from draws at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City has not kept the club out of the bottom three.
Alex Bruce, one of several defensive heroes in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad, said: “It is weird how we take points off the big teams. I don’t know what it is, to be honest. Maybe we just have not had that bit of Lady Luck against teams around us.
“You look at last season, we didn’t pick up any points against the big teams. Funny old game, football. You just can’t put your finger on why it has been like this.
“I am not too sure why we didn’t back up those away results (at Arsenal and Liverpool). It is difficult to put your finger on it.
“The key now, though, is we have to erase from our minds what happened in the past and go into Villa with a fresh mind. Make the KC a fortress again. Belief is a big thing. Villa is a massive game and we need the KC to be rocking.”
Bruce Snr has been under increasing pressure following a poor run but Alex insists his dad is only focused on leading Hull out of trouble.
“He has not been any different,” he added. “He is long enough in the tooth to realise we are Hull City. Big, massive clubs have had ‘second-season syndrome’ and it is fair to say we have suffered from that.
“But now we are rolling our sleeves up and hoping to stay in this division.
“Conceding in the last minute (against Manchester City) hurt. But, in the cold light of day, it is a good point. Now we have to build on it. We have to get maximum points against Villa and QPR, as if we don’t then it means all the hard work we put in (against City) goes out of the window.”
Last six games: Hull City WLLLLD, Aston Villa WLLWLL.
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).
Last time: Hull City 0 Aston Villa 0; October 5, 2013; Premier League.