Old hand Bruce bids to banish Hull City’s relegation hangover

Hull City manager Steve Bruce
Hull City manager Steve Bruce
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The Tigers are looking to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt. And their manager has form after pulling off the same trick nine years ago, writes Richard Sutcliffe.

LOOKING to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt? Check.

Hull City signing 'Sam Clucas

Hull City signing 'Sam Clucas

Having to sell key players to cope with the inevitable fallout from relegation? Check.

And, Arsene Wenger stepping in to do Steve Bruce a big favour by loaning him a couple of outstanding youngsters capable of making a big impact in the Championship? Check.

The parallels between the summer of 2006 at Birmingham City and what has been an often difficult close season at Hull City this time around are striking.

What Tigers fans everywhere must now hope is that Bruce can repeat that trick of nine years ago in inspiring a successful promotion push from the East Yorkshire club. This time, though, the 54-year-old would like any ride back to the promised land of the Premier League to be a bit smoother.

“At Birmingham, I was this close to getting the sack early in that season following relegation,” says Bruce with a grimace while holding his thumb and finger just a centimetre or two apart when talking to The Yorkshire Post at City’s temporary training base in Bishop Burton.

“The hangover (from being relegated) can take a while to go and it certainly did that year. We took a little while to get going but then, from the November time onwards, we won a lot of games and never looked back.

“What I learned from that is how the big thing is for everyone to get over things quickly. The season is upon us now and we have to be ready.”

City’s chances of avoiding the sort of hangover that almost proved fatal to Bruce’s job prospects in the autumn of 2006 have risen over the past week.

A need to bring in sufficient funds to ensure the club complies with Financial Fair Play rules in the Football League led to a number of high-profile exits.

Tom Ince was an early departure to Derby County after a release clause in his contract was triggered by the ambitious Championship outfit, while James Chester and Robbie Brady also headed out of Yorkshire and back to the top flight in big money transfers.

Throw in the likes of Stephen Quinn, Liam Rosenior, Steve Harper and Paul McShane all departing and the Hull squad had, as recently as the final weekend in July, taken on a distinctly threadbare look.

Reinforcements were needed, so in came Ryan Taylor on a free transfer from Newcastle United and highly-rated Chesterfield winger Sam Clucas in a £1.3m deal.

Arsenal duo Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden have also moved north for the season, as Wenger repeated his generosity of nine years earlier when he lent Bruce both Nicklas Bendtner and Fabrice Muamba.

Further additions are planned with Hull having triggered a £3.5m buy-out clause in Moses Odubajo’s contract at Brentford, whose striker Andre Gray is also a major target of Bruce.

Providing Hull can get these two deals over the line and then make further additions as high-earners such as Dame N’Doye, in Turkey talking to Trabzonspor about a £2.5m switch, are moved on then the squad at the KC Stadium could be in a very healthy state.

“You have highs and lows in football and how last season ended was unquestionably one of the lowest points,” said the City chief about a relegation that was confirmed on the final day by Newcastle United’s victory over West Ham United.

“After getting into Europe and playing in the FA Cup final, it was then awful to get relegated. But what we have to do now is get over that disappointment.

“I know there has been a bit of doom and gloom around this summer. That is inevitable but we have to shake ourselves out of it and build a team.

“We lost targets this summer that we’d identified but that is the way it is. A lot of supporters out there will have been itching for us to make a few new signings, which we have been starting to do. What we also need now is patience.”

Bruce’s Birmingham started that promotion-winning season of 2006-07 by taking an impressive ten points from the opening four games.

After that, however, things went awry and by the middle of October a 1-0 home defeat to Norwich City left the St Andrews crowd calling for a change of manager. Wisely, the Blues board stood firm and were rewarded come the following May with a second place finish behind Roy Keane’s Sunderland and an instant return to the top flight.

“There are similarities to back then now, the main one being that we have to start again after a good few years for the club,” said Bruce.

“At Birmingham, I also had to wait until once the season was well under way for me to get my team properly together. It will probably be the same this year.

“Certainly, until the transfer window closes. I just don’t know what will happen because there are buy-outs [in player contracts] that other clubs can trigger.

“When that happens, we will be in danger of losing players. Once the window shuts, we will have a better idea.

“The new lads will also need time, as well. I do, though, believe that we needed young and energetic players and, in that respect, we have made some useful additions.

“We have good experience at the back, a bit of experience in midfield. But we need the young ones to show the energy they have in abundance and to go on to fulfil their potential.

“The big thing is everyone has to get over the disappointment. There are some big clubs who have been in the Championship year after year.

“It’s not going to be easy, it never is, but I’m still confident that by the time the end of August finishes, we’ll have a squad that can make a challenge.

“Last time we used the loan system well and it’ll be a vital ingredient again. I’ll use every advantage I can.”

City have been based at their Academy within the grounds of Bishop Burton College this summer due to the pitches at their Cottingham training ground being relaid.

Thanks to the facilities being so impressive, the disruption has been minimal as Bruce looks for his side to adapt quickly to the demands of what can be a very draining division.

“The Championship is going to be tough once again,” he said. “A lot of teams have spent a lot of money.

“Just in Yorkshire, teams like Sheffield Wednesday have spent big and I had glowing reports from Leeds at the weekend [in a 2-0 friendly win over Everton]. They have bought wisely with a new manager also there in Uwe Rosler.

“There is always someone that surprises you every season. Look at Bournemouth and Brentford last year. Someone out there will have a good team.

“One thing about the Championship is that it’s a fair race that you can’t call. We know who will be the top six of the Premier League but I bet you any money you couldn’t predict the six in the Championship. You just couldn’t. That is the challenge.”