STEVE BRUCE and Jake Livermore could not have been more emphatic if they had tried.
On the importance of Hull City negotiating their Europa League second-leg play-off date with destiny at home to Belgian outfit Lokeren tonight, the duo were as one.
Elimination would not just represent a grievous wound, but an unmitigated disaster.
It is a fair bet they were speaking for everyone of a black-and-amber persuasion. After all, what is the point of attending a party if you leave before those on the main guest list arrive?
Fans’ appetites have been whetted by trips to Belgium and Slovakia, but not sated. Especially with dream vacations to the likes of Inter Milan, Sevilla and Fiorentina potentially in the offing, with the brochure of prospective opponents that will greet club delegates when they convene for the group stage draw in Monaco tomorrow a glossy one.
The bash in the Mediterranean principality is clearly one not to be missed...
On the notion of missing out being referred to as a disaster, Tigers chief Bruce, who is lining up Palermo’s Uruguayan international striker Abel Hernandez in a potential club record £10m deal after calling time on his pursuit of Jordan Rhodes, said: “I think that is the consensus of us all.
“For all the hype of getting there, if we did not reach the group stages, it would be devastating. I think that goes for us all.
“I am under no illusions about how difficult it’s going to be because Lokeren are a good side. They were one of the six or so teams that I looked at and thought ‘if we pull them out, they are possibly the hardest we could face’. They proved over there they are a good side, so it will be a tough ask.
“But we have got to try and enjoy it and embrace it and let’s get into the group stages because if we pull out one of the big European teams and that is quite possible, it is something we will remember for a long time.”
Livermore has echoed the comments of his manager and despite already possessing a considerable CV in terms of Europa League experience from his time at Tottenham Hotspur – which saw him line up against Inter and play opponents in Greece, Russia, Slovenia and France – he is eager for much more.
He added: “To get to the group stages would be fantastic and it would be an absolute disaster, to be frank, if we missed out.
“The big European nights are what you play football for. Your family all come to the game and it’s almost a bigger deal for them because as players we just go game to game looking to win.
“It is a massive thing for the club to be involved in because it is not something the club has experienced before.
“I had a good run in the Europa League with Tottenham. I learnt a lot about myself as a player, how to get through European games, cope with the travelling and be ready to play again at the weekend. It was great to be a part of and a big learning curve.”
After fighting back from a one-goal deficit in the third qualifying round second leg against Trencin exactly three weeks ago at an expectant KC Stadium, the Tigers face a further character examination this evening on what promises to be another white-hot night in East Yorkshire.
Trencin’s resistance was not broken until Sone Aluko’s strike 10 minutes from time in the 2-1 aggregate triumph, after the first leg finished 0-0, and Bruce acknowledges that patience will be a virtue for both players and supporters in the stands as City set about wiping out a 1-0 deficit from the first leg seven days ago against Peter Maes’s Lokeren at the Daknamstadion.
Equally, Bruce is conscious of the need to keep mistakes to an absolute minimum, mindful that his side left the continent without an away goal last week, just as they did on their maiden European outing in Slovakia.
Bruce, who sampled his own glory night as a player at Manchester United in the victorious final of the Cup Winners Cup against Barcelona in Rotterdam in May 1991, said: “We have got to be patient and we have got to understand what playing in Europe is like.
“The team we are playing against are a good team, who are well organised, I have got huge respect for the coach (Maes) and what he has done.
“He is sought after and well thought of in Belgium and having met him over there and the way he set his team out, they have got to be respected. It will be difficult, make no mistake.”
Tonight’s clash continues a frenetic week for Bruce, busily working behind the scenes to boost his squad before Monday’s transfer deadline, with the name on Tigers fans lips being that of Hernandez.
Bruce, who landed ex-Spurs defender Michael Dawson – younger brother of ex-Tigers full-back Andy – on Tuesday, said: ‘We are close to one or two things and are very close to one in particular, which would be a fantastic addition for us if we can pull it off.”