FA CUP: Several new faces required if Hull are to build on heroics of a memorable season

Hull City manager Steve Bruce.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce.
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IT could be Rotterdam. Or Anywhere. Liverpool or Rome.

As Hull City have been happily singing in recent weeks, their team are heading on a European tour and it promises to be a time to savour.

Visits to all four corners of the continent potentially lay in wait, though sadly for fans of The Beautiful South, Hull’s favourite musical sons, the chances of ticking off all the places immortalised by the 1996 hit ‘Rotterdam’ are thin due to Feyenoord, Roma and Brendan Rodgers’ Reds being destined for the Champions League and Lazio finishing mid-table in Serie A.

Still, that leaves plenty of stiff tests when City take part in the third qualifying round for the Europa League with a two-legged tie scheduled for July 31 and August 7.

Among those entering at the same stage will be such European luminaries as PSV Eindhoven, Dynamo Moscow and Lyon.

Inter Milan, Borussia Monchengladbach and Villareal will then be thrown into the mix in the fourth and final qualifying round to illustrate that Hull really are in the big league following their historic run to the FA Cup final.

For Steve Bruce, European competition will – as it is for Hull – be virgin territory. He is, though, under no illusions as to how tough combining a run in the Europa League with the priority of retaining top-flight status on home soil is going to be.

“I think we have got four (European) games by the end of August,” said the City manager. “And a club like ours, I don’t think we are ready for that. But we will have to give it our best shot when it comes around.”

City becoming the fifth Yorkshire club to play in Europe is not without complication.

For a start, UEFA rules on homegrown players – basically, eight have to be trained in England for three years or more with half of those trained by the club in question for a minimum three consecutive seasons – mean the Tigers are likely to be restricted to a 21-man squad as opposed to the usual 25.

That is because, at present, Hull have no squad members who fit the second criteria with even fourth-choice goalkeeper Mark Oxley failing to qualify due to having spent this season on loan at Oldham.

With that in mind, recruitment is going to be key this summer with Bruce insisting in the wake of the Cup final that he needs “five or six” new faces.

Jake Livermore is expected to be one of those. His return to parent club Tottenham Hotspur leaves a gaping hole in any side that Bruce could pick from the players at his disposal right now.

Even if Livermore does return, however, City need more quality if they are to truly make the step up to the next level. Tom Huddlestone has, even allowing for a few moments in the season when his performance levels dipped, proved an inspired signing and another of his quality would do very nicely to provide more competition for David Meyler, who has had an outstanding year.

The two flanks also need a bit of attention, especially down the left where Robbie Brady’s injury problems have been keenly felt.

Whether Bruce has opted for wing-backs or 4-4-2, City have been found lacking out wide at times with full-back Maynor Figueroa’s form tailing off badly since Christmas and George Boyd yet to really convince further forward at the very top level.

It is why City looked at Max Gradel in January, while another Leeds old boy, Robert Snodgrass, is available if Bruce wants to give Ahmed Elmohamady, who has had a fine year, some competition down the right.

In the middle of the defence, Curtis Davies has been outstanding. So, too, has James Chester. But the latter’s gruesome hamstring injury – the tendon almost came away completely from the bone – is still far from solved, as his recent time out of the side proved.

Another top class centre-half, therefore, would do the trick, as would Steve Harper agreeing to extend his stay by another year after deputising admirably for Allan McGregor when the Scot has been either injured or suspended.

As for the forwards, City seem well served with Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic as good a pairing as any outside the top seven clubs in the Premier League – and especially if Matty Fryatt can be tempted to sign a contract extension.

Bruce said: “We are going to have to try and enjoy Europe. But now is not the time to reflect on that, it is the time to dust ourselves down, enjoy our holiday and come out and play in Europe. I know I need a holiday because I am absolutely b*****ksed.”

The demands of keeping City up and taking the club to Wembley are, no doubt, why Bruce felt – and looked – so drained at Wembley. So, too, a demanding travelling schedule in the Cup that saw, the FA Cup final programme revealed, City travel 1,820 miles this season to reach the final.

Arsenal, in contrast, had merely jumped on the Metropolitan Line a couple of times thanks to having the good fortune to be drawn at home in every round before the semi-finals.

In real terms, however, the journey that took the Tigers to English football’s showpiece occasion had been much, much longer than that.

More than a century in the making, City’s first appearance in a major Cup final came not only via stop-offs at Middlesbrough, Southend and Brighton this term but all the various trials and tribulations that have made up much of the club’s history.

For every heart-warming occasion like last month’s semi-final victory against Sheffield United, there has been a Kettering. Or, worse still, a Hednesford, whose 2-0 victory at Boothferry Park in 1997 was mentioned by many long-serving supporters making their way to Wembley.

Those days are, hopefully, buried in the past. The challenge now is to keep pushing Hull forward, starting with that first tilt at European competition.

A run to the latter stages on their Europa League debut may be asking too much. But one thing is for sure, City – and Bruce, once his holiday is over – are showing no signs of letting-up any time soon.