When his Hull City side froze last week, Steve Bruce could understand it.
He did not like it, but he understood. The same thing had happened to him in a career that brought medals and success as a cornerstone of Sir Alex Ferguson’s breakthrough side at Manchester United.
Bruce’s moment when he was “like a rabbit in the headlights” on the big occasion came in 1990. United were through to the FA Cup semi-final and were due to play Oldham Athletic at Maine Road.
Ferguson’s side, despite a disappointing league season that would bring a finish in the bottom half of the table, were overwhelming favourites against the Division Two Latics. Things, though, did not go to plan.
“I remember that first semi-final against Oldham in 1990,” said the Hull City chief. “A boiling hot day, and Palace had just beaten Liverpool in the other semi.
“So we had got Palace in the final. No disrespect to Palace but they were not Liverpool. I was absolutely sh**e on the day. I remember shouting over to big Pally, ‘You had better be on your guard’.
“The problem was he was worse! It finished in a 3-3 draw and we were hopeless. Well, I was hopeless. The key, though, is you learn from it.
“We have all been there when you don’t perform. It is a frustration. The players didn’t want to go out there against Burnley and not perform. But it happened and the key is what happens next.”
United, of course, beat Oldham in a replay and went on to lift the Cup. It was Ferguson’s first trophy and paved the way for an unprecedented period of success at Old Trafford.
“In that next match, I wasn’t man of the match or anything like that,” recalls Bruce. “But I was better for the experience and we will be better against Tottenham because we can’t be any worse.
“We didn’t string a pass together against Burnley, we didn’t run quickly enough, we didn’t create enough and we didn’t do enough to win a Premier League game.
“I didn’t hide it from the players afterwards. I couldn’t say, ‘By the way lads, you were wonderful’. You have to be honest enough and admit to it, hold your hands up and move forward. People appreciate the honesty.
“It would be quite easy to make excuses. We hit the bar twice but we didn’t do enough, we’d be kidding ourselves.
“We have to be better against Spurs. If we get beat with our boots on and it is not enough, I will review the whole thing and ask ‘Where did it go wrong?’ Then we have to face up to all that reality. But not just yet.”