FRESH from agreeing terms on a new three-year contract, Steve Bruce insists Hull City will not be intimidated by a run-in that features meetings with six of the top seven in the Premier League table.
The Tigers begin the 10-game climax to the season on Saturday with a trip to bottom club Leicester City.
With Hull sitting five points clear of trouble – or, effectively, six if goal difference is taken into account – victory at the King Power Stadium would be a major boost to the club’s survival hopes.
After that, however, City face a largely daunting schedule that kicks off a week on Sunday with the visit of leaders Chelsea and includes clashes with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton.
With every point likely to be precious at the bottom, Hull’s run-in looks to be the toughest of the seven clubs likely to be scrapping it out in the fight to avoid relegation.
Despite that, Bruce, who is expected to sign his new deal in the next 24 hours to remain at Hull until 2018, has sufficient confidence in his players to believe the East Riding club, 15th in the table at the moment, can steer clear of trouble.
The Tigers chief told The Yorkshire Post: “There are so many games to go. The tickly bit is around the corner and that is when anything can happen. But I feel we have a good squad.
“People look at run-ins and certain games. And, yes, you always have a better chance against teams around you than anyone in the top seven.
“But we have had some great results against the big teams away from home. We played particularly well in those games as well.
“We were a minute away from beating both Arsenal and Manchester City on the road. There won’t be many who can say that.
“In terms of the Premier League, the honesty and the endeavour stand out.
“And you never know in our league. You look at others (around Europe) and they get a bit predictable.
“But, while we know who will be generally at the top and who will be in the bottom group, we do not who will be first, second, third and so on. Same with the bottom three.
“Who would have had Aston Villa down here at the start of the season? Not many. Same with Everton still being in it.
“But they are at this minute because they are only a point above us.”
Hull’s run-in is, on paper, by far the toughest of any team fighting against relegation.
Forthcoming opponents Leicester City and Burnley – the latter due at the KC on May 9 – are struggling but the next lowest-ranked side that Bruce’s men will face is 12th-placed Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
Otherwise, Hull travel to Swansea City, ninth right now, as well as taking on all but Manchester City of the seven sides chasing Champions League football.
May looks particularly difficult, with home games against Arsenal and Manchester United plus a trip to Tottenham Hotspur to go with the visit of Burnley.
In contrast to that difficult schedule, the rest of the relegation pack face, at most, four of the top seven.
All Hull’s rivals also face either three or four of their fellow strugglers in those final 10 games, more than the two that Bruce’s men will take on.
No wonder, therefore, that Saturday’s trip to rock-bottom Leicester stands out as a fixture in which the Tigers need to claim maximum points.
The flipside, of course, is that the Foxes, who beat Hull 1-0 in December, will also be targeting the weekend as a ‘must-win’ encounter as Nigel Pearson’s men look to claw back a seven-point deficit on fourth bottom Aston Villa.
Bruce added: “I am sure QPR last month were looking forward to facing us and Leicester will be the same at their place.
“Let’s be fair, teams in and around you – while not necessarily being easier games – do give you more chance of collecting points.”
With that in mind, Saturday’s meeting with Leicester is, undoubtedly, of major importance and Hull are hoping for a major boost with the return to the bench of Mohamed Diame after three months out with a knee injury.
Bruce said: “Obviously, you have more chance beating the teams around you. If you can do that, you do very quickly get a gap. Just look at us in three games last month. We went from the bottom three to five points clear. And with our goal difference, you could increase that by another point.
“It was two wins that helped us. And they were inside a couple of weeks. However, despite having that little bit of a cushion on the bottom three, we are by no means out of it yet.”
Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez have been called-up to the Uruguay squad to face Morocco in a friendly on Saturday March 28, while Maynor Figueroa will link up with Honduras.
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