Bruce gets chance to prove his point to Black Cats

STEVE BRUCE remembers the day like it was yesterday. Which, considering the vitriol that poured down on him from four sides of the Stadium of Light, should not perhaps come as too much of a surprise.
Hull City's Jake Livermore (left) and Everton's James McCarthyHull City's Jake Livermore (left) and Everton's James McCarthy
Hull City's Jake Livermore (left) and Everton's James McCarthy

The date was November 26, 2011, and Sunderland were taking on Wigan Athletic in a Premier League fixture that supporters of the two clubs had billed as ‘the loser gets a new manager’.

For Bruce, such a label proved sadly prophetic as, just a couple of days after being subjected to chants of ‘you Geordie b******, get out of our club’ in the wake of Franco Di Santo snatching a stoppage-time winner for Roberto Martinez’s Latics, his reign on Wearside was brought to an end during a telephone call from owner Ellis Short.

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A little under two years on, Bruce will today go head-to-head with Sunderland for the first time since being sacked by the Black Cats and he admits the manner of his exit does still rankle.

“I was bitterly disappointed with the way it ended,” said the Hull City manager to the Yorkshire Post. “And I will never forget that day against Wigan, when the crowd turned on me.

“I wouldn’t want any manager to go through that. That will stay with me for a long time, the hatred on some people’s faces was ridiculous.

“When I went to Sunderland (in 2009) under Niall Quinn, he never had any doubts the Geordie thing would come back at me. But, then again, Niall never looks at the other side of things, he is always positive.

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“Looking back, it was probably a mistake (leaving Wigan for Sunderland) because, in some people’s eyes there, I could never win. Not with where I was from and me being a Newcastle fan.

“A lot couldn’t hack that. As soon as it became a little bit fractious, of course that came out. I don’t think I am still hurting but I am bitterly disappointed with the way it finished.

“I’d had two-and-a-half great years (finishing 13th and 10th) with a really good chairman in Niall Quinn. The biggest disappointment was getting sacked 11 or 12 games into the following season. I thought I had maybe got a bit more time than that.”

Asked what reaction he expects to get from the travelling fans at the KC Stadium today, Bruce replied: “I wouldn’t think it will be warm, put it that way. Though, some might reflect and think, ‘You know something, he didn’t do a bad job after all’.”

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A straw poll of City fans would, of course, reveal a support firmly behind the 52-year-old. Not only did Bruce take the Tigers up at the first attempt but he has also ensured a smooth transition back to life among the elite.

Despite the past week having brought an unfortunate league defeat and an unlucky Capital One Cup fourth exit at the home of Tottenham Hotspur, Hull have plenty to smile about right now.

Eleven points from an opening run of nine games that has included trips to White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge, St James’ Park, Goodison Park and Eastlands is an impressive return by any standards.

It means the Tigers will host the second-bottom Black Cats sitting 10th in the table, a performance that has more than underlined the managerial attributes that Bruce’s Wearside critics so cruelly forgot in his final few weeks.

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He said: “Let me tell you, when you get the sack in football it has just become the norm.

“Everybody thinks ‘ah well, they get the sack, they get back on the roundabout and away they go’.

“When you get the sack, you feel like a failure and you’re not good enough. That’s what rankles with you and I was always desperate to come back out and shut a few people up. You do if you have anything about you.

“Getting the sack is not a good place to be. But it made me more determined, after I had had a break.

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“I hadn’t had a break from football for years and years and maybe it did me a bit of good. You reflect on what went wrong and ask yourself questions. You go back to the time when it all went pear-shaped and you have to learn from it and the mistakes you made.”

City host the Black Cats unbeaten in four games at the KC this season, a run that has seen Bruce’s defence concede just one goal.

That came in a 1-1 draw with Cardiff City, while Norwich City and West Ham United both lost 1-0 in the East Riding and Aston Villa ground out a point from a goalless draw.

With Crystal Palace the next visitors to the KC three weeks today, Bruce is well aware of the importance of maintaining Hull’s encouraging start to life back in the Premier League.

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He said: “It is all right getting pats on back but we need the points. We just need a little bit of luck. At the moment, it is deserting us.

“The players deserve the pats on the back because we have gone to Everton and Tottenham twice (recently) and really taken the game to both of them.

“We were just a bit unfortunate. Let’s hope it’s our day (against Sunderland) as it would be nice to beat them, of course it would.

“With Palace coming up, these two games are crucial. That is why it is a big period for us this side of the break.

“We need our home form to be as good as it has been. We have won two and drawn two so we need to maintain that.”