Video: Hull City looking to prosper in tranquility of Lokeren

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AS a city, Lokeren may not be able to match the enchantment of Bruges or the medieval charms of neighbouring Gent.

But, from the picture box market square that is lined by bars and restaurants on three sides and the river Durme on the other through to the cobbled lanes that lead in all manner of directions, this corner of East Flanders deserves to be on the tourist trail.

Hull City training at the Daknamstadion ground. PIC: Richard Sutcliffe

Hull City training at the Daknamstadion ground. PIC: Richard Sutcliffe

(Video warning: Flash photography)

That it generally isn’t could have something to do with being sandwiched between Gent and Antwerp, while Bruges is not much further away.

Regardless, there is an enticingly tranquil air to Lokeren, a city so determined to roll out the welcome mat that a beer marquee has been erected in the city centre to today satisfy the thirst of the visiting Tigers fans.

This respect extends to coach Peter Maes, who had plenty of kind words about Hull when speaking to the Belgian media in a press conference where The Yorkshire Post was the only English media outlet present.

Lokeren v Hull City. Picture: Richard Sutcliffe

Lokeren v Hull City. Picture: Richard Sutcliffe

“It doesn’t matter if Steve Bruce plays the first team or the second team,” he said. “I have seen them against Stuttgart (in a pre-season friendly that followed the play-off qualifying round draw) and then against QPR.

“He played two different teams – only three players were in both – but they won them both. I was very impressed.”

What that geniality shouldn’t hide, however, is just how determined KSC Lokeren are to progress at the expense of their Premier League visitors.

His City counterpart is certainly in no doubt as to the challenge City will face tonight and how they will have to be much improved on their previous showing in the 2-1 aggregate victory over FK AS Trencin in the last round.

“I am under no illusions that this will be more difficult than the last one,” said the Tigers manager. “They are a good side.

“You don’t finish fifth in their league and win the Cup if you are not. The reports we have got on them are very, very good.

“But we have the incentive of wanting to get through to the group stage, where we could draw one of the big ones.

“That is the ultimate. It is for the players, the club and the supporters more than anything, to go and have a night out at the San Siro.

“I have never played at the San Siro, but I have been there and it is magnificent. No disrespect to Lokeren, where we are now, but that has to be the aim.”

First, though, City must see off a team who, unlike the Yorkshire club, are old hands at competing in Europe with this being the club’s 13th appearance in various competitions.

Their best showing came in the 1980-81 UEFA Cup when Dynamo Moscow, Dundee United and Real Sociedad were beaten en route to a quarter-final exit against AZ 67 Alkmaar.

Lokeren also have experience of playing English opposition, even if both home ties against Newcastle United in the 2001 Intertoto Cup and Manchester City in the UEFA Cup two years later ended in defeat.

“They know what to do and they know how to handle a European cup tie,” said Bruce. “In that respect, they have an advantage on us. But we have enough in our locker to get through.”

Lokeren’s preparations have gone much smoother than those of Hull, the Belgian side having won both their league games on home soil this term against Zulte Waregem and Lierse SK.

Hull, too, won on the opening day of the Premier League season at QPR but it came at a cost with Robert Snodgrass, the £7m summer arrival from Norwich City, suffering a dislocated knee and ligament damage that will keep the Scot out for six months.

Bruce, who is also without son Alex tonight due to a back problem, described the injury to Snodgrass as a “tragedy” before admitting that it has ramifications for his recruitment plans.

“We have got 10 or 12 days to try to bring in a replacement,” he said.

“Two or three offers went out (on Tuesday) but I am not going to tell you who, that would be wrong.

“You don’t have to be Einstein to work out we have lost a striker and a midfielder and I still think we need a bit of cover defensively, too.”

Asked about Cameroon international Vincent Aboubakar, Bruce replied: “He is someone we are aware of and he is a very good player, but whether something materialises I am not sure.

“We haven’t made an offer, but we have had conversations. At this stage, though, we have had six or eight conversations with clubs and different players.”

As for tonight’s first leg tie, Bruce has already admitted he will ring the changes with Yannick Sagbo, suspended for the victory at QPR, set to return alongside Sone Aluko up front.

Former Sheffield United centre-half Harry Maguire will also make his Tigers debut, while for Lokeren top scorer Dutra Junior is fit again after minor knee surgery.