STEVE BRUCE has a simple message for the Sunderland fans planning a hostile reception for the Hull City manager on his first return to the Wearside club since being sacked a little over two years ago: “Bring it on.”
The Tigers chief, a boyhood Newcastle United fan, endured a hate campaign during the final few months of his tenure at the Stadium of Light.
Bruce is ready for more abuse today and the former Black Cats manager believes the home fans focusing on him could work in Hull’s favour as the Yorkshire club look to lose the unwanted mantle of having the joint worst away record in the Premier League.
“The players are the most important thing for me,” said the Tigers’ chief. “They have got to handle the occasion and the atmosphere.
“If it is all geared at me, fantastic, bring it on. It can work like that. If all the focus is on me, the players can just go out and do their jobs like they did at Newcastle (in September when Hull won 3-2).
“Mind, I have a sneaky suspicion it’ll be a little bit more hostile than at Newcastle.”
Bruce came in for some muted abuse when his Hull side beat Sunderland 1-0 at the KC Stadium in November. Today, though, is likely to be a very different matter with the locals keen to vent their displeasure at the Hull manager.
On his expected reception, Bruce said: “I really can’t wait for it. A lot has been said about it and I am bored of it myself, to be honest.
“All I can say is in my time there I took over a team that just survived on the last day of the season. We then finished 13th and 10th, but it wasn’t to be.
“We have all moved on. Since I have left there have been more managers come and go. We have all moved on. It is part of football history.
“It is another big game for me. I’m certainly used to getting stick, I’ve had it all my life. It’s not going to change now.”
Hull, who have taken just five points from 12 league games on the road this season, could have Sone Aluko back on the bench today after nearly four months out with an Achilles injury.
Bruce is in no doubt the important role the Nigerian international has to play in the fight to stay in the Premier League.
“We don’t want to rush him, but he has a 50-50 chance,” said Bruce of Aluko, who is likely to have to wait until the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Brighton & Hove Albion on February 17 for a first start.
“He played on Monday for 60 minutes (in a behind-closed doors friendly against Notts County) and it was as if a big weight had been lifted off his shoulders because he flew around. It was like, ‘Wow, we’ve got Sone back’.
“We then trained at the KC (on Thursday) because of problems at the training ground and he just reminded everyone of what ability he has got.
“Of course, we don’t want to rush him.
“This time we have erred on the side of caution.
“For the last couple of weeks he has been ready for a game, but, instead, we have trained him and trained him. Basically, he has had a mini pre-season.
“If there is a slight doubt about him, we will err on the side of caution. Our aim is the FA Cup for him.
“Having said that, we have got two games before that when, if we need him for 10 or 15 minutes, we will be able to do that.
“Sone is a big player for us. If you look at Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the land, and take out (Wayne) Rooney and (Robin) Van Persie, then they will miss them because they are big players.
“During my time here, Sone has arguably had the biggest impact out of everyone with his ability. For me, before he got injured at Blackpool on New Year’s Day (2013), he was the best player in the Championship.
“He was instrumental in us getting to the top of the league. We had a wobble during the run-in because we missed his creativity.”
England manager Roy Hodgson will be in the crowd at the Stadium of Light today, primarily to watch Adam Johnson. The recent form of the former Middlesbrough winger has led to calls for his return to the international fold and Hodgson has responded by choosing to attend Hull’s visit.
While Johnson will be the focus of the England manager’s attention, his presence does provide an opportunity for Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone to stake a late claim for a World Cup place.
England have just one more friendly – at home to Denmark on March 5 – before Hodgson is due to name a 30-man provisional squad on May 13.
“Of course there is time,” said Bruce when asked about Davies or Huddlestone making a late run for the World Cup. “There is always a shock in the squad.
“Between now and the World Cup people pick up injuries so there is still all to play for. I believe the England manager is going to be there (today) so what a chance it will be to impress him.
“It is a big opportunity. Roy is the one to impress, so let’s hope they all have good games.”
Davies was last named in an England squad when Fabio Capello was manager in a friendly against Germany in 2008. The defender, then of Aston Villa, made the bench but failed to go on.
Huddlestone, meanwhile, earned the last of his four caps under Hodgson in 2012 when he came on for Steven Gerrard in a friendly against Sweden.
Jake Livermore, who will return to the Hull side after missing last week’s 1-1 draw with parent club Spurs, also has one England cap.
Meyler follows his father’s advice to the letter: Page 3.