Hull City v Manchester City: Wembley trip is bonus for Bruce as Hull enjoy regeneration game

Manchester City players celebrate victory in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London.

Manchester City players celebrate victory in the Capital One Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London.

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STEVE BRUCE’S first response is to burst into laughter.

The Yorkshire Post has just asked the 53-year-old what his response would have been had someone told him in August that both Manchester City and Hull City would end the season with one major trophy apiece.

“I would accept that all day long,” admits Bruce eventually about a prospect that, thanks to the Blues being knocked out of the FA Cup and Champions League, is a lot more realistic now than it was just a week ago.

“But, equally, I don’t think we can get too carried away. We have got a wonderful opportunity (in the FA Cup) but we have still got two games to win.”

Such a pragmatic response is to be expected. Bruce has been in the game long enough to know that the moment dreams take over from reality, football has a tendency to bite back.

Even so, there is a tangible sense of excitement in the East Riding right now as the Tigers chase a double of Cup success and Premier League survival that, in terms of resources, would be every bit as impressive as the league and Cup triumphs that Bruce enjoyed as a player at Old Trafford in 1994 and 1996.

A first semi-final appearance in 84 years is booked, while another two league wins will, according to the Hull manager, be enough to ensure top-flight football at the KC Stadium beyond the end of May.

“There is a buzz about the city,” said Bruce. “It is the same among the players at the training ground. You don’t get to a semi very often. Not many of them have been there. Maybe Tom (Huddlestone) and (Allan) McGregor in Scottish football.

“It is great for them but we have got to put it to bed for a few weeks. What would be terrific is if we can secure safety by the (April 13) semi-final, then we can all go and enjoy the weekend.

“Having said that, anything can happen in a semi-final. My first semi-final was a boiling hot day in 1990. Crystal Palace beat Liverpool 4-3 to start the day and then we played Oldham and scraped a 3-3 draw.

“Oldham were magnificent on the day and I was hopeless. I was 30 years old, it was my first semi-final and I got caught up in the occasion. Thankfully, we got a draw and won in the replay.

“That is what I mean when I say you cannot take anything for granted in a semi, no matter who you are playing. No matter if they are a non-League team or whatever they are.

“Sheffield United have been terrific of late, so we have still got it all to play for.

“The next step after getting to Wembley is to make sure you win and reach the final. It is not a great day out if you get beat in the semi-final and that is why no-one is thinking about winning anything just yet.”

The priority for the season is, of course, what it has always been – getting the ten wins that Bruce targeted way back in August to stay in the top flight.

Title-chasing Manchester City are, though, tough opponents to begin the final ten game run-in. Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long will return to the side after missing last Sunday’s quarter-final win over Sunderland due to having already played in the Cup for Everton and West Bromwich Albion respectively.

Hull’s £14m duo may have cost a fraction of Alvaro Negredo, once a loan target of Phil Brown when in charge at the KC, and Sergio Aguero but Bruce admits that the pair are fast becoming priceless to the Yorkshire club.

“Manchester City have some great strikers,” said the Tigers chief. “Aguero, Negredo and (Edin) Dzeko are sheer quality. But we are delighted with the two lads we have brought in.

“They gave us a lift at the right time and have both already scored important goals. They won us the games at Cardiff and at Sunderland, and that is what we brought them in for.

“I know they must both be disappointed at missing out on the Cup run. But they were both in the dressing room last Sunday and you can see that they are delighted for their new team-mates, too.

“In terms of Jelavic, he scored two against QPR (in the third round). His performance that day made me go and buy him. My chief scout, Stan Ternant, came back waxing lyrical about him, saying he was exactly what we want.

“He was terrific, so the Cup tie helped him – even if that means he is a bit frustrated at missing out now.”

Hull’s two previous home games against Manchester City at the KC have yielded a draw and a 2-1 victory. Either result today would be a major bonus to the Tigers’ survival hopes but Bruce admits it will be tough.

He said: “It is amazing to see the transformation in Manchester City. In the days when I played (at Old Trafford), the team we had to overcome and who Sir Alex (Ferguson) wanted to beat was Liverpool.

“They were the dominant force in the Eighties and, slowly but surely, we wrestled it away.

“Then Arsenal came along and the great sides that Arsene Wenger built. Then the challenge comes from Chelsea and now it comes from Manchester City.

“The one thing you can never take away from them is the support. I remember them dropping down to Division Two and they would still have 30,000 every week at home.

“They have got a magnificent, truly loyal support. After being in the city for 10 years, I knew they have always been unbelievably well supported.

“In that respect, they are a truly big club. Now, with the investment and what they are building there, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.

“You go there as a visiting manager these days and it is canapés before the game. It’s breath-taking the stuff that goes with it.

“It can only be a good thing for football to have as many challengers as possible in the Premier League.”

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