Bruce eager to end his long wait to enjoy Reds letter day

Hull City's Yannick Sagbo.
Hull City's Yannick Sagbo.
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THE speed with which Steve Bruce responded to the Yorkshire Post’s enquiry spoke volumes.

In 18 games as an opposing manager against Manchester United, the 52-year-old has never tasted victory so this newspaper asked if there was ever a time when he thought that run against his old club was about to end.

“Yes,” came the instant reply from the Tigers’ chief ahead of today’s Boxing Day game with the reigning champions.

“I was in charge of Sunderland and we were 2-1 up with about 30 seconds to go.

“Then, (Anton) Ferdinand swiped at the ball and put it in his own net. An own goal. He went to clear it and the ball came off his foot.

“As you can tell, I can barely remember it.”

Bruce has a big smile on his face when delivering these last few words. But the fact that the memory of the October 2009 visit to Old Trafford at the helm of the Black Cats stands out so vividly underlines just what it would mean for the Hull chief to get one over the club where he enjoyed such sterling success as a player.

In those previous encounters with United when in charge of Sunderland, Wigan and Birmingham, Bruce oversaw 14 defeats and just four draws.

Today, therefore, offers a chance to end that long wait for a victory over the Red Devils, who are undergoing something of a transitional season following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

Premier League wins over Aston Villa and West Ham United during the run-in to Christmas have boosted United, but last season’s champions still sit seventh in the Premier League, well off the pace at the top.

“I don’t know if it is a better chance or not to finally get that win,” admits Bruce when asked the inevitable question.

“But we know that we have got to play well.

“To have any chance against them, you have to play well on the day and that is all we can hope for.

“I don’t think the aura has gone because Sir Alex has gone. In my experience, whether you are playing Bayern Munich or Scunthorpe with Manchester United, it is a big occasion.

“The name ‘Manchester United’ just seems to have a special pull about it. You either love them or hate them, but you can’t argue with one thing – it is always a magical draw when you play against them. Playing Manchester United will be a special occasion. There will be a big crowd, it is being shown live on the TV and with it also being Boxing Day we couldn’t have wished for anything better.

“Our home form has been terrific and, touch wood, let’s hope that continues because it is going to be the key to us getting the next 20 points to stay in this division.

“To have 20 by Christmas is a really good achievement, but we need to kick on and get the same again.”

In nine years as a player with United, Bruce won a host of honours. Three Premier League titles – including the club’s first championship success in 26 years – were a clear highlight, while he also lifted the FA Cup twice and the European Cup-winners’ Cup.

Being involved at the start of the amazing run of success that eventually saw Ferguson win 38 trophies in his 26 and a half years at the helm means the Hull manager appreciates more than most what it takes to bring success to Old Trafford.

He said: “When you are following in the footsteps of Sir Alex, it is a difficult job to grasp whoever you are. David (Moyes) has handled himself fantastically well in a dignified manner, like we knew he would.

“He found it a little bit difficult to start with, but the signs are that they are starting to get into gear. Their last couple of results have been impressive.

“I still see them as title contenders, absolutely. You can never write off Manchester United. Just because they have changed manager, it doesn’t mean that mentality is going to go away. It is ingrained in them. For a lot of the players, they are used to success.

“They know how to win a league. You can never write them off because they are capable of going on to win eight, nine or 10 games on the spin. Usually, they get stronger in the second half of the season. That’s always been the case with them. I definitely wouldn’t write them off.”

Asked if he thinks a finish outside the Champions League places might persuade United to look elsewhere for a manager, the former United captain said: “They will not even contemplate (sacking him). They will give David time, I am confident of that.

“What is needed is for David to be given the chance and this is where Manchester United stand alone. They will be patient. They believe they have got the right man for the job and they will give him time to put his own stamp on the club. They will give him the chance to make his own mark and do the job the way he sees fit.”

Last six games: Hull LWLDDD, Manchester United LLWWWW.

Last time: Hull City 1 Manchester United 3; December 27, 2009; Premier League.

Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).