STEVE BRUCE believes Hull City can lay down a yardstick for the season when Middlesbrough head to the KC Stadium today.
The Tigers moved to the top of the Championship in midweek after extending their unbeaten run to 11 games but Boro are just a point and three places behind Bruce’s men.
Today’s clash – the second all-Yorkshire clash of the day after Huddersfield Town host Leeds United at lunchtime – offers Hull an opportunity to underline their promotion aspirations and Bruce insists his players can deliver.
“It is a big game,” said Bruce. “It won’t define anything because we are only 15 games in but it will give us an idea of where we are. Middlesbrough bought well in the summer and last year they lost in the play-off final.
“I think the Championship already has (taken notice of us). Before the season even started, we were up there in the odds because we have got some very good players here.
“The sprinkling of new players has helped the team as well and we are going along very nicely. But it has only just started and there is a long way ahead, though at the minute things are looking decent.
“Boro, though, could tell us a bit more. The manager (Aitor Karanka) has got his own style, he is a head coach if you like. But a lot of responsibility, I believe, goes to Steve (Agnew, Bruce’s former assistant at Hull).
“It will be good to see Steve, he is welcome back here any time. He was very enjoyable to work with. His glass was always half full. He never ever lets himself get too down.
“He is always bubbly and lively. And, on top of that, he is a very good coach. Steve played a huge part in our success. We came here together with different ideas and he was always wanting to play the game in the right way. I enjoyed working with him immensely for two and a half years.
“Then he was offered an unbelievable deal at Middlesbrough. The way football is now, he had to go. It was as simple as that. It was not just the salary but the security that very few of us get in football. Unfortunately, it meant we had to say goodbye.”
Hull’s clash with Boro will be preceded by Leeds’s visit to Huddersfield Town. The hosts head-coach-in-waiting David Wagner will not officially take over until Monday so the team will be led by Academy chief Mark Lillis.
It will be the 55-year-old’s fourth stint in temporary charge of the Terriers and captain Mark Hudson believes Lillis, who never lost in five fixtures with Leeds as a Huddersfield player, is the ideal man to lead the club into derby combat.
Hudson said: “Mark Lillis is Huddersfield through and through. I know what it means to him to take charge of this game and we will be fired up for Leeds.
“Both clubs have been busy this week. But Mark brings something different to this game because he knows what it is all about. Mark wants to do what he did before.”