STEVE BRUCE believes the Premier League needs a couple of Yorkshire representatives to prevent the current north-south divide in the top flight growing even further.
Tonight sees two of the county’s trio of promotion chasers in the Championship go head-to-head as Hull City host Sheffield Wednesday in front of the live Sky cameras.
Bruce’s Tigers can stretch their lead at the summit to four points with victory, while three points for the Owls would haul Carlos Carvalhal’s men firmly back into contention for the top two.
With Middlesbrough occupying third place, the Broad Acres could feasibly have one, two or even three teams competing in the top flight next season.
That would go some way towards redressing the trend of recent years that has seen Yorkshire and the north-west drift into the football wilderness.
Only Manchester of the traditional northern powerhouses has managed to genuinely hold its own alongside a resurgent capital, with both Newcastle United and Sunderland in grave danger of following the likes of Leeds, Wednesday, Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley and Wigan by falling into the Championship.
For Bruce, a native of the north-east who has managed three Yorkshire clubs, the current situation is a sad one and something that he hopes to help redress by taking Hull back up at the first attempt.
“The north-west and Yorkshire have had a difficult few years,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I suppose that goes with the economies of these areas. There is a north-south divide now and we can’t have that growing any further.
“That is why it is good to see Sheffield Wednesday making a fist of it once again. I remember going to Hillsborough (with Manchester United) for an early kick-off, and getting the run-around off Hirsty (David Hirst) in front of a full house. The game finished 3-3, I remember it well.
“Sheffield Wednesday had a good team then. They are a big club with big history and tradition. After working in Yorkshire for a lot of my career – and even though I worked across the city (at Bramall Lane) – it is good for this county and this area to see them doing well again.
“To have a couple of teams pushing to get into the Premier League is good for the county. We all want a bit of it.”
Leicester sitting on top of the Premier League has, of course, been the perfect antidote to the dominance of the ‘big four’ in recent years.
Increased revenue streams for clubs below the so-called Champions League elite has played a part in the Foxes becoming the surprise package of English football, closely followed by the likes of Southampton, Crystal Palace, Watford and West Ham United.
Next season will see income leap even further courtesy of a new £8bn TV deal, meaning if any of Yorkshire’s challengers can go on to win promotion there is a genuine chance of making an impact next term.
Hull chief Bruce added: “There are no Yorkshire teams in the Premier League but it shows you how difficult the challenge has become when you have got Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle – three, big, big clubs – all in the bottom three.
“But, where the Premier League has improved, is that the big clubs aren’t destroying the other teams any more. We are seeing how great it is for Leicester but there is also a trend this season where the mid-sized teams, like Tottenham, are making a challenge.
“You then look further down the league and you have got Southampton, Stoke, West Ham all pushing forward. The big boys don’t have it all their own way any more.
“That is what a bit of shrewd investment can do and, of course, money. Hopefully, we can get up and have a go.”
As first host sixth tonight at the KC, there is bound to be plenty of interest from elsewhere in the promotion-chasing pack.
Just six points separate Hull from Derby in fifth place, a margin that Bruce admits means everything is very much still up for grabs.
“A six-point gap means it can all change in a week,” he added. “I wouldn’t rule Derby out and I wouldn’t discount Sheffield Wednesday, either, because it is all about who puts the run together between now and the end of the season.
“The next six or seven games in the run-up to Easter are crucial. We have given ourselves a terrific chance but it is quite remarkable that we have still not really pulled away from anyone after the run we have been on.”
Bruce may admit to being wary about the Owls but he also recognises that victory tonight could make the task of trying to overhaul the Tigers a daunting one for Carvalhal’s men.
“It would be very hard for them to catch us,” he said about the hunt for three points.
“You can never rule anything out but it would be difficult.
“Mind, as I said when we played them at Hillsborough, this is the best Sheffield Wednesday team I have seen for years. That opinion hasn’t changed.
“Sheffield Wednesday are one of the sides capable of putting a run together. They have recruited well and they have got players who can score goals like (Fernando) Forestieri and (Gary) Hooper.”
Preview and news from the Owls camp: Page 22.