AT a time of year when several clubs near the foot of the Premier League are showing all the reliability and elan of a clapped out old banger, Hull City are ready to turn to a player who Steve Bruce has dubbed the club’s very own “Rolls Royce”.
Mo Diame, a £3.5m signing from West Ham United on the final day of the summer transfer window, does not have too many miles on the clock in a Hull City shirt after losing four months of the season to a knee injury.
But, after watching Diame motor through training this week, Bruce has declared the Senegal international’s bodywork to be in exemplary condition despite the long lay-off.
More pertinently, the 54-year-old Tigers chief also believes Diame can provide the drive and thrust required to steer the Yorkshire club away from relegation trouble.
“Mo has looked immense,” said Bruce ahead of today’s trip to Swansea City. “He has been great. And he looks like a Rolls-Royce.
“He has come in and we have all gone, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ The kid is a top, top player and we have missed him.
“One of our best players has walked back on to the training pitch and that takes the levels up a notch.
“Physically, if his knee is all right, he is a beast. He doesn’t put on any weight, unlike some.”
The last comment alludes to the less than flattering photos of Bruce relaxing by the pool in Barbados during the recent international break that appeared in a national newspaper last Monday, showing he has taken them in good part.
With a three-point advantage over the bottom three – or four if goal difference is taken into account – Hull look to be in better shape right now than their manager.
This, though, could change during a run-in that is as tough as any of those facing clubs battling against the drop – hence Bruce’s delight at having Diame, who netted four times in his first five appearances for Hull in the autumn, back in the fold.
“If he can come back at anywhere near the level he was at,” said Bruce, “it will make a big difference.
“Let’s face it, he is a top, top player. He could go and play anywhere in the Premier League.
“I was with Kenny Dalglish recently. He was very close to taking him to Liverpool when he was manager there and Diame was out of contract with Wigan.
“He can play in any team. He has proved that. If he can get back to that level, it will give us a big boost.
“No matter how you try and flannel it up, we have been without big players for too long and it has been a struggle. Mo has been out for four months and Robert Snodgrass all season, and they were the two players I signed to improve our midfield.”
Diame is not the only welcome returnee today with James Chester back in the fold after recovering from the dislocated shoulder that the Wales international suffered in mid-January.
It means just Snodgrass, the suspended Tom Huddlestone and Nikica Jelavic, who recently underwent knee surgery, will miss the trip to south Wales.
Compared to just a couple of months ago when the treatment room was busier than the first-team training pitch at Hull’s Cottingham headquarters, Bruce is now much better equipped to handle a run-in that is sure to test his resources.
“There is no denying we have got a tough run-in,” he said. “But, at the moment, it doesn’t matter who you play, you have got to accumulate the points. I have always said that.
“The way we are playing at the moment, I believe we are capable of getting the points, I really do.”
Asked how many points would be needed to stay up, Bruce replied: “I don’t know, I really don’t. We got 37 last season and I would take that now, all day long.
“Last year, 34 points was enough. Will two wins be enough for us? We can only try and accumulate as many points as we can. But our performances lately have been good.
“We were disappointed not to take anything from Chelsea and we should have beaten Sunderland. But we have kept accumulating points and shown some good form over the last seven games.”
On the corresponding weekend of last season, Hull as good as guaranteed their Premier League safety by beating Swansea City at home.
Victory today over the Swans would not do the same, but it would go a long way towards easing any pressure that the Tigers are under ahead of a run-in that includes home games with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United plus trips to Champions League-chasing duo Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton.
“The difference last year was we always won at the right time,” said Bruce. “We were never in any real trouble. Before our last game (the 3-2 home loss to Chelsea), there were eight teams in the fight. Now, there are six.
“We would be naïve to think we weren’t going to be one of those teams. There has been the same group of teams separated by a few points all season.
“All of a sudden, you think you are out of it and then you are not. But we have started to pick up a few points when they were needed. Over the next eight, we need more of the same: to win a couple, draw two or three.
“I have seen a resilience and a determination that they want to stay here, to be in the Premier League. I am sure we can do it.
“If we can keep that level of performance (against Chelsea) then we will be fine. I think back to December and January when we were rock bottom with confidence, and without five or six big players. We are a different proposition now.”