Hull City v Newcastle: Tigers get ‘little bit of everything’ with new strike duo
The Tigers’ manager formed a formidable and complementary central-defensive combination with fellow North-Easterner Gary Pallister during his decorated playing career at Manchester United in the trophy-laden first half of the Nineties at Old Trafford.
They ranked right up up there with the top centre-back duos of their generation.
Sir Alex Ferguson certainly thought so, affectionately labelling the pair “Dolly and Daisy” which constituted a term of endearment on one hand, but was also testimony to the on-pitch chemistry between the pair.
Bruce famously fronted up and did the no-frills work at the back, Pallister invariably sweeping up behind him and using his consummate class and pace. Not too many strikers got the better of them.
Now Bruce, in his guise as a manager, has turned from gamekeeper to poacher and is keeping his fingers crossed that his £14m striking duo of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long can prove as successful a partnership as he and Pallister did a couple of decades ago.
The early signs since the pair were brought together following their dual capture in the January transfer window are unquestionably gopromisingod.
Both are set to be restored to the Tigers’ line-up for this afternoon’s home encounter with Newcastle United, famously beaten 3-2 at St James’ Park back in September, with the East Yorkshire club unbeaten in five against the Magpies and seeking their first league double against them since 1990-91.
To achieve that, much is likely to depend on the prowess of Jelavic and Long, who looked a class apart in last weekend’s 4-0 dismantling of a sorry Cardiff City side, with the pair also cutting the mustard as both found the net in the 2-0 success at Sunderland.
In Jelavic, Hull have nous and predatory instinct while in Long they have work-rate, a yard of pace and also an eye for a goal.
You can bet your bottom dollar that plenty of sides in the Premier League are currently looking on enviously at the strength of the Tigers’ big two and on the early evidence, £14m looks money well spent by Bruce.
Whisper it softly, but Jelavic and Long, given a fair wind, could be as synonymous a footballing pair in Hull as the likes of Chilton and Wagstaff and Whitehurst and Edwards, two combinations from yesteryear which will be thought of affectionately by Tigers fans for generations to come.
On the issue of double-acts, Bruce said: “Certainly me and Pally had to work a little bit because he was a big lazy, laid-back sod.
“When we bought them (Jelavic and Long) we thought we had a little bit of everything. We had the strength and power of Jelavic and the pace of Long, who wants to go in behind.
“The second goal that they made for each other against Cardiff, we’ve never had that before.
“He (Long) goes in behind to get the ball and plays on the shoulder. They are just two good players.
“As soon as (he) Jelavic scored against Sunderland, you could see … he’s bouncing around the training ground at the moment.
“It looks as though he wants to score in every game.
“But the most important thing was how they fitted in with the group. They have got an attitude where they roll their sleeves up and work hard for each other. Their work-rate and application is there for everyone to see. They’re not just good players, they’ve got the attitude. They are not afraid of any hard work either.”
Hull’s classy additions are now busy hogging the limelight, but it was a different story in the early months of the season when the name on everyone’s lips when it came to speaking about the Tigers and their impressive start to their top-flight adventure was Sone Aluko. The Nigerian international marked plenty of pundits’ cards with his seamless introduction to Premier League life, although it was no real surprise to Bruce, who labelled the striker as the “best in the Championship” until his cruel Achilles injury around Christmas 2012, which meant he missed out on the Tigers’ promotion party.
Injury has also beset him this season after a fine opening, although Bruce was quick to tie the former Rangers player to a long-term contract earlier this season despite his convalescence, with the Geordie knowing full well his importance to the cause.
Aluko is likely to make way this afternoon and, after his second serious Achilles problem in a year, Bruce says he will manage his workload, especially with the Tigers fighting on two fronts, in league and cup.
Bruce said: “We’ve got to manage him properly. He will be in the squad for Newcastle and then will definitely play against Sunderland (in the Cup).
“We have been able to manage him because of the Cup. We couldn’t throw him in for four or five games. I don’t think it would be possible for him to play a Saturday and a Monday, for example. He was never in the frame for that.
“Thankfully, the cup has given him a route to get him back to full fitness.”