AHEAD of his milestone 200th match in charge of Hull City, Steve Bruce has cause to look back with fondness on much of what has gone before.
Promotion to the Premier League in his first full season followed by top-flight survival and a maiden FA Cup final appearance for the Tigers plus European football for the first time in East Yorkshire – and plenty more besides during his eventful spell in charge.
Granted, there have been bumps in the road. Relegation for one in 2014-15 and being caught in the crossfire during controversial plans to change the club’s name to Hull Tigers being another.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Bruce and Hull, subject of renewed takeover speculation with vice-chairman Ehab Allam holding “constructive” talks over the weekend with a potential overseas buyer with a view to a possible sale.
But in terms of the here and now, Bruce can think of no better way of gilding his landmark game than by sealing a Wembley appearance for the third time in his near four-year tenure tonight.
Bruce, whose side hold an impregnable-looking 3-0 Championship play-off semi-final lead over Derby and are rated 1-100 to reach the final this evening, said: “A win would make it a lovely way to bring up the landmark.
“If someone had told me that my 200th game would provide a chance to go to Wembley for a third time, the chance of a second promotion after playing in an FA Cup final and in Europe, I would not have thought that was possible. We have had a really good time of late and let’s hope we can carry it forward.”
Reflecting on his time in charge, he added: “There is always a low when you get relegated, that will always stay with me, but overall there have been more highs. I can remember playing Hartlepool away in a pre-season friendly in my first season and we had got beat. I was driving home thinking, ‘What on earth have I got here?’
“To think that was four years ago to where we are now, with the players we have got, then it is a million miles. I have had a really enjoyable time and I hope it continues.”
Bruce will address his future with the Allams once Hull finish their season’s commitments, with the hope of everyone being that those discussions follow a joyous on-pitch party at Wembley in 11 days with the club back in the big time.
Equally, the north-easterner is also pragmatic enough to accept that the division in which the Tigers start the 2016-17 season could impact on his future.
When questioned on that fact, Bruce – the seventh longest serving manager in the country, having been appointed back in June 2012 – acknowledged: “Possibly. I have not really thought about what lies ahead.
“I really have not looked at my situation. Last summer, when we got relegated, I offered my resignation to the board. They did not accept that and wanted me to stay.
“I will sit down with the owners again in a couple of weeks, regardless of what league we are in.
“The main thing, forget my future, is for him (Assem Allam) to get well. That is far more important to see him recover.”
Hull head into tonight’s second leg with the Rams as overwhelming favourites to book a place in the final on Saturday week following their 3-0 win at the iPro Stadium. No second-tier club has previously overturned a three-goal deficit to reach a play-off final.
Then there is the not inconsequential matter of the Tigers’ formidable KC Stadium form which sees the hosts head into tonight’s game without a home league defeat in 14 matches.
No one of an amber-and-black persuasion will need reminding that it was tonight’s opponents who inflicted that rare reverse in a 2-0 victory on November 27.
That at least should prove useful in avoiding any complacency in the ranks of Hull, who have not been beaten by more than two goals at home during Bruce’s time in charge at this level.
Bruce, who has no qualms about fielding second-choice goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic if Allan McGregor (back) misses out again, said: “We have to be bang at it again or anything can happen.
“I will hammer the point home to the players as best as I can because it is not over. Let’s make sure we finish the job.”
Tickets are still available for tonight’s game and after witnessing a cauldron of noise from Derby fans before Hull doused their fires, Bruce wants a similarly parochial occasion, albeit with a different outcome. “These moments do not come around too often. It might be another few years before we go back to Wembley, who knows?” he said.