STEVE BRUCE heads to former club Sunderland today determined to extend Hull City’s mantle as Yorkshire’s top team into 2015 and beyond.
The Tigers, the White Rose county’s sole representative in the top flight for the past 18 months, travel to Sunderland for the first of two games inside 48 hours that could go a long way towards deciding how the rest of the campaign will pan out.
Bottom club Leicester City are due at the KC Stadium on Sunday and if City can collect four – or even six – points then the fight against relegation will be up and running.
If, however, the year ends with Hull’s winless run having been extended to 12 games then demotion and a possible reunion with several of their Yorkshire brethren in the Championship will look a distinct possibility.
Bruce said: “Everyone from top to bottom – from the players to the staff – has to batten down the hatches and pull together.
“We have to make sure we stay in this division. We want to stay here and maintain that we are the top team in Yorkshire.
“Everyone looks at the table, of course they do. If I want to be negative, I can shrivel up and walk away from the challenge. But that is not in my nature.
“Instead, I say, ‘Come on, let’s have a go’. I have seen positive signs in the last couple of weeks, even though it hasn’t quite gone for us in terms of results.
“But we have done well away from home. We have taken points from the trips to Everton, Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal. You have got to have something about you to get those kind of results.”
Hull taking 104 years to reach the top flight mean the club’s standing as being Yorkshire’s top dog is a recent one.
With Middlesbrough handily placed for an automatic promotion challenge in the second half of the season, however, City may have to retain their top-flight status or risk being usurped by Aitor Karanka’s men in the summer.
Three points at the Stadium of Light today, therefore, would do very nicely. It will not, though, be easy with Sunderland coming into the game on a high after claiming a fourth consecutive derby victory over rivals Newcastle United last Sunday.
One man unconcerned by that victory at St James’ Park, however, is former Sunderland winger Ahmed Elmohamady, who points to last season as a potential omen for today’s trip to Wearside.
“Sunderland are high on confidence because they beat Newcastle,” said City’s Egyptian international. “But we went there last year (the game) after they had beaten Newcastle as well.
“They won that game 3-0 (at St James’) but we won 2-0 at the Stadium of Light a week later. It would be a good thing for us to go there again and get the result.”
Elmohamady spent a little over two years on Wearside before moving to Hull, initially on loan, early in the 2012-13 promotion-winning season.
He added: “Steve Bruce signed me and my first year at Sunderland was good for me. We had a great year to finish 10th, so I have some good memories there. I also went there last season (with Hull) and that was a good game for me. Of course, it is a big thing to play against your old club but the main thing is the result for the team.”
Asked if he was worried by City’s lowly league position, Elmohamady, who is expected to make his 72nd consecutive league appearance for the East Riding club today, replied: “I never worry.
“If you are a footballer, you have to have confidence and like working hard. You can’t worry. Of course, you look at the league table and sometimes you are disappointed with your position. Because of the players we have got and the manager we have, we should be in a different position.
“The manager is one of the best I have worked with. He is very clever and he knows everything about the game. He has been very important for me.
“For me, we are unlucky. Nothing is wrong, we are just unlucky in football. Look at the goal we conceded against Swansea, the deflection. That was so unlucky.
“We just need to keep our confidence high and go to Sunderland like we did last year.”
Jake Livermore joins a lengthy list of absentees today after collecting his fifth booking of the season against Swansea last Saturday.
Bruce is also without Tom Huddlestone through suspension, while Michael Dawson, Robert Snodgrass and Mo Diame are all out injured.
Captain Curtis Davies (shin) is a major doubt after undergoing a scan but his place will not be taken by Paul McShane, who is not considered following a breach of club discipline.
Tom Ince and Maynor Figueroa are in the squad after being recalled from loan spells.
Last six games: Sunderland DDLDDW, Hull City LLDDLL.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Last time: Sunderland 0 Hull City 2; February 8, 2014; Premier League.