Everton v Hull City: Bruce hoping fit-again Jelavic can deliver on Toffees return

IT has been a peculiar year for Hull City.

Nikica Jelavic.

Just six league wins from 29 outings is not much to show for an unprecedented spending spree that, give or take a million or two, topped £50m.

It is a disappointing return for such a huge financial outlay, especially with the historic run to the FA Cup final coming courtesy of the old guard’s efforts as opposed to any of 2014’s big money new arrivals.

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With that in mind, the jury has to still be out on City’s recruitment over the past 11 months even if there have been notable successes along the way.

Chief among those has to be Nikica Jelavic, who became the first of four record signings that the Tigers have made this year when joining from Everton for £6.5m in mid-January. The 29-year-old has made a big impression in amber and black, his four goals last season coming in games that ended in two victories and the crucial April draw at Fulham that as good as preserved Hull’s top flight status.

This time around, Jelavic started in even more prolific form with four goals in his first seven league outings before a knee injury brought an enforced six-week absence from the side.

He was sorely missed, City’s attack lacking a physical presence in his absence and the goals soon dried up.

Jelavic’s return against Tottenham Hotspur on November 23 may not have been able to halt a run of defeats that now stands at four but Steve Bruce is in no doubt as to how vital the Croat is to Hull’s hopes this season.

“‘Jela’ has been a terrific signing since he walked in the door,” said Bruce as Jelavic prepares to tonight return to Goodison Park for the first time since moving along the M62 to Yorkshire in January.

“It is quite incredible that he has nearly been here a year. He did a lot for us at the back end of last season, won us some important games.

“It is just a shame that when he was starting to hit top form this season he picked up the knee injury.

“That set him back and set us back. For me, the loss of Jelavic started that little dip in form. That was the key.”

Jelavic spent two years at Everton and netted 21 goals. The last two of those, which came in a 4-0 FA Cup third-round victory over Leyton Orient, helped persuade Bruce to splash the cash on a striker who had until then found opportunities hard to come by at Goodison.

Shane Long also joined a week or so later for a deal that eventually cost £7m but with both men having already played in the Cup it meant they missed out on the run to Wembley.

Neither let the disappointment of having to watch every tie from the stand affect them, however, as the pair retained the knack of scoring vital goals in the league.

Bruce said: “You have to players like ‘Jela’ in your squad. He epitomises what I like in a player. He might not be blessed with silky skills but he’s got the heart as big as himself.

“We missed him so it’s great to have him back. I don’t think he’s got anything to prove to Everton because he had a really good couple of years there.

“I am sure he is looking forward to going back. It is always nice to return to your old club and I am sure he will be relishing it. Knowing him like I do, he will be looking at that game for sure.”

Tom Huddlestone is expected to return after being dropped to the bench against Manchester United.

Bruce said: “Tom has had a wonderful 18 months here and it was only a matter of months ago there were headlines like, ‘Is he the best player Hull have ever had?’. But then sometimes you have a dip in form and you need to take a break from it and have a look at it.”

Last six games: Everton DWDWWL, Hull City DDLLLL.

Referee: R Madley

Last time: Everton 2 Hull City 1; October 19, 2013; Premier League.