STEVE BRUCE insists Hull City record signing Nikica Jelavic will soon be among the goals after his debut ended in a disappointing defeat.
The Croatian international arrived at the KC Stadium last week in a deal that, providing the Tigers stay up, will see a transfer fee of £7.5m paid to Everton.
Jelavic hit a post on his debut as Hull slipped to a 1-0 reverse at Norwich City, a result that left Bruce admitting his side are looking anxiously over their shoulders at the relegation zone.
The concertina effect that sees just five points separating bottom club Cardiff City from the Tigers in 11th place means the fight to avoid the drop is likely to be fiercely fought.
However, in Jelavic and fellow newcomer Shane Long – who did not travel to Carrow Road due to an ankle injury sustained in his last game for West Bromwich Albion – Bruce believes he has the right two strikers to keep Hull out of trouble.
He said: “No doubt about it, they will give us an advantage that we didn’t have before.
“We know we need to pose a greater threat going forward and that’s why we’ve brought in the two players.
“I thought Jelavic was terrific in the first half – a real, proper centre-forward. He nearly scored a wonderful goal.
“That would have made a huge difference (to how the game went). That unease around the place could have been heightened after the run Norwich had had.
“He (Jelavic) inevitably tired but I couldn’t fault him. If he could have just stuck his chance away when he hit the post it could have been a very different game.
“But I am sure he will score a few goals for us and that will be handy. It might take him a little bit of time.
“He is like anyone who has not played a lot of football. It is far easier when you’re playing week-in and week-out but it won’t take him long. He will get up to speed quickly enough.”
Jelavic lasted the full 90 minutes, an impressive feat for someone who has spent most of the season on the sidelines at Goodison Park.
As Bruce said, however, his involvement waned the longer the game went on. He was not helped by Hull’s midfield being second best for most of the afternoon against Robert Snodgrass-inspired Norwich.
Despite that, the Tigers almost left East Anglia with a point thanks to an impressive defensive rearguard in which both Curtis Davies and Liam Rosenior shone.
Hull held out until the 87th minute when Ryan Bennett broke the deadlock with a headed goal after being picked out by Snodgrass.
Manager Bruce, who will be without Tom Huddlestone in this weekend’s FA Cup fourth-round tie at Southend United after the club’s erstwhile record buy was red-carded a minute from time, said: “I can’t fault the commitment of my defenders and the way we defended as a team.
“But we can’t keep relying on our defensive organisation. We have got to take part in the game and play. Unfortunately – and particularly in the second half – we didn’t do enough.
“We kept giving the ball back to them and that was the frustration. We didn’t spring forward as much as I’d have liked and it was one of those days when too many of our big players didn’t perform.
“You are always upset when you lose late on. Even though we weren’t at our best, they didn’t deserve the win either.
“I can’t remember (Allan) McGregor having to make a save before the goal and the same goes for their goalkeeper.
“The best move of the game was in the second minute. Had it gone in, that would have been a wonderful start for Jelavic.
“But those are the fine margins of football. For the goal, our best player, Liam Rosenior, came off the line when it was his job to stay on the post and it has cost us.
“We could have just seen it out and taken a point. That would have put us on 24 points and instead of being five points above the bottom three, we could have been six.”
Danny Graham, who since the arrival of Long and Jelavic has been linked with a possible loan move to the Championship, did not even make the bench at Carrow Park – something that further fuelled the rumours that he may be soon on his way back to parent club Sunderland.
However, Bruce added: “I can only pick 18 players and, from what we have seen lately, (Matty) Fryatt has done well. If I could pick 24 players then I wouldn’t leave anyone behind.”
As for the fight to avoid relegation, Bruce is readily aware that his side are involved in it.
The Hull chief, who expects Long to be fit to face Crystal Palace a week tomorrow, said: “Are we out of it yet? Are we heck. We are in amongst it like everyone else. There is nobody out of it right now, not the way the league looks.
“We are always looking over our shoulder. Can you get to 38? Will that be enough? The bottom teams need another 20 points to get up to that mark and that will be very difficult. I should think that would be enough.”
Neither Jelavic nor Long will be available for the Cup tie at Southend due to having played for Everton and West Brom, respectively, in the previous round.
Spotlight on the record signing
Not for the first time in recent years, the debut of a Hull City record signing ended in defeat.
It could, though, have been so different with Nikica Jelavic coming within a whisker of putting the Tigers ahead inside two minutes.
Robert Koren provided the pass but it was the Croat’s intelligence – he took up a position eight yards from goal, as the Canaries defence raced to cover their goal-line – that created the opening.
Thirteen minutes later, Jelavic was at it again with a delightful flick to Jake Livermore that deserved the return pass Hull’s new boy demanded. Instead, Livermore shot wildly.
After that, Jelavic – like his new team-mates – lost his way. Fatigue played a part, the new arrival had said last Thursday when introduced to the Press that he was unlikely to last 90 minutes due to a lack of match practice.
But it also did not help that he and Yannick Sagbo often found themselves 30 or more yards apart, making it easy for Norwich.
Despite that, his early showing suggests Jelavic can be a success in a Tigers shirt.