THERE is one table no Premier League managers wants to top – the sack race, drawn up by the bookmakers to illustrate who is the most likely to lose their job next.
Steve Bruce is in pole position right now, just ahead of Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert, after a calamitous run that has dumped Hull City deep in relegation trouble.
Last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at home to Newcastle United was the 12th time in the past 16 games that the Tigers had failed to find the net.
It was also the 11th loss of that same run and such was the tepid nature of Hull’s display once behind, the odds on Bruce being the next top-flight manager to get the axe shortened last weekend.
“It’s my turn,” said Bruce yesterday when asked about the speculation over his future. “Unfortunately, it is what football management is about now.
“You have a few bad results and, even after what you have achieved, (people say) I am under pressure and I am going to lose my job.
“I can’t affect that. It never ever worries me. I am a big enough boy to realise it is what happens and not let it bother me.”
After two years of considerable progress under Bruce, this season has turned into something of a toil.
Hull started brightly and after back-to-back draws on the road at Arsenal and Liverpool in late October, they were sitting ninth in the table.
Then, though, began the current slump in form, a run that is unlikely to be halted today when Hull head to Premier League champions Manchester City.
Defeat at the Etihad could see the Tigers slip even further into trouble, due to the trio of clubs also in the bottom four – Leicester City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers – all being at home.
Bruce, however, insists his only focus is on getting a good result today to take into back-to-back home games against fellow strugglers, Aston Villa and QPR.
“I have a good relationship with the chairman,” said the Hull chief when asked about owner, Assem Allam.
“If my job was under pressure, I would expect him to tell me.
“He is a wonderful old man and what he has done for the club and the community is nothing short of remarkable. However, I realise we are all judged on results.
“The one thing I want to do for him is keep this club in the Premier League after what he has done.
“That is my main focus, but I don’t take it for granted.
“The relationship will always be good. I will always have the biggest respect for him and that is not going to be any different – even if he sacks me.”
Bruce has ignored the off-field speculation about his job this week to strengthen both the squad and his back-room team.
Dame N’Doye signed from Lokomotiv Moscow in a £3m deal after Bruce flew to Paris to help lure the Senegal striker to England.
The flying visit to the French capital meant the Hull chief was not at the club’s Cottingham training ground to welcome his other capture, new assistant Mike Phelan.
Bruce added: “The chairman has let me bring in an assistant of my choice this week and spend more money on a forward.
“If my position was under threat, I don’t think he would have done that.
“I think he might have done it before the transfer window opened.
“I don’t take for granted what I have done here. Football is all about today.
“You are only as good as last week’s result and last week’s was hopeless. I have to live with that. But I can’t let it worry me.
“Otherwise, if you read all the press, the internet and all the rest of it, you would go barking. You wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
“I think the vast majority of people, the big supporters, are intelligent enough to know that we have had a really tough three months in terms of getting people on the pitch.
“If you took seven or eight players out of any team, it would have a horrible effect.
“It has been a constant and difficult problem. We haven’t been able to cope with it as well as we would have liked.”
That Hull have had horrendous injury problems is not in doubt. But a dip in form by most of last season’s success stories has been equally responsible for the current run.
Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore are perhaps the three most high-profile members of the squad to suffer in this way and Bruce admits it is frustrating.
“I think it is confidence, the lack of results,” he said. “It stems from the earlier results.
“Last year there was no expectation on Hull. Everyone thought we were going to get relegated. The second season is arguably worse.
“It’s an unbelievable thing, confidence.
“Davies, Livermore, Huddlestone had such a huge effect on this football club a year ago. They set unbelievable standards and this year, for one reason or another, they have found it difficult.
“We have got to see it through, but there’s no question in my mind that they’re good players. You have to stick with it, simple as that.
“The bottom six or eight is never going to change. Last year, we were always at the top of our little division.
“Expectation, there was none. Zero, zilch. We were going to get relegated. We enjoyed the tag of underdogs. This year, with the investment in the squad and the things we were doing, everyone expected us to be flying and it hasn’t quite happened.
“But we have still got a quarter of the season left. Let’s hope we can rediscover it. You never lose ability, but that is what the Premier League does. You have to stay with it and stay strong to get through the tough times.”