QPR v Hull City: All change is the key as Hull battle on two fronts

AS Steve Bruce heads to West London today with what is by common consent the best squad in Hull City’s history, the contrasts could not be more marked with the only previous time the club kicked off a second consecutive season in the top flight.

New signings Tom Ince

Where this summer has seen the Tigers pip the likes of Inter Milan, Sunderland, Celtic and Everton to highly-regarded signings, 2009 brought a succession of journeymen to the East Riding as financial problems started to bite at the KC.

Hull’s idea of a big-name arrival back then was, in fact, literally that with free agent Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink coming in at no less than 23 letters.

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Contrast that with a summer that has brought Jake Livermore, Robert Snodgrass, Tom Ince, Andrew Robertson and Harry Maguire to the Tigers and it is clear that even allowing for Shane Long’s shock £12m departure this week, Bruce’s squad are in fine fettle.

Which is just as well, with this season bringing the challenge of not only a Premier League season but also a possible run in the 
Europa League.

Just how to handle these dual demands is something that has been vexing Bruce since his side’s place in the qualifying stages was confirmed in May by defeat to 
Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

One round has already been negotiated, last season’s Slovakian runners-up Trencin having been seen off over two legs.

It was the experience of those two meetings, and especially the return tie at home that was followed by a friendly in Stuttgart just three days later, that led to the Tigers’ manager hitting upon a solution.

“I have said before that the second season in the Premier League is the most difficult,” said Bruce, whose side travel to Belgium on Thursday for a play-off qualifying round first-leg encounter with Lokeren.

“We have never been past two seasons before (in the top flight) as a club so that is the big challenge.

“We have to make sure we stay up. But we have that challenge of Europe this time, too, and the way forward with that is to copy what we did last week by changing the whole team.

“I know it was a friendly (against Stuttgart), but we changed every player from the Trencin home game (on the Thursday) to Stuttgart and for us to survive and do well in Europe, that is the only way I can do it.

“Basically, I have come to the conclusion that whoever doesn’t play on the opening day at QPR will play on Thursday.

“To me, it is the most sensible approach. It might be controversial but we are at a level where the squad of players is pretty even.

“I have people who have served me handsomely for years. (Paul) McShane, Alex (Bruce), (Liam) Rosenior, (Stephen) Quinn, (George) Boyd – all of these people might not play at QPR but they will on Thursday.

“They deserve that because of what they have done for this club.

“We did something similar in the FA Cup last year. I went to Middlesbrough (in the third round), made nine changes and yet no one made a fuss because we won.”

Hull’s selection headaches in the Europa League are compounded by UEFA rules on home-grown talent which mean the Yorkshire club must operate with a squad of just 21, as opposed to the usual 25.

For Bruce, that means having to cut at least a couple of squad players, with Maynor Figueroa dropping out against Trencin due to his late return from the World Cup.

This time around, the arrival of Maguire and Robertson complicates matters, even though Long has dropped out following his move to Southampton.

Hull had to submit their squad lists to UEFA a couple of days ago, but Bruce can make one change up to 24 hours before Thursday’s first leg.

For today, Europe can wait. The priority is getting off to a positive start in the Premier League.

Bruce has all but Yannick Sagbo, who starts a two-game ban, available so all eyes will be on his team selection against promoted QPR.

Hull’s impressive performance in beating Bundesliga side Stuttgart last Sunday certainly gave their manager food for thought. Robertson, for instance, was bright on his debut, as were George Boyd and Stephen Quinn in midfield.

Long, in line with all those who had started against Trencin three days earlier, sat the game out ahead of his shock departure to Southampton.

That allowed a front two of Nikica Jelavic and Tom Ince to prosper, while at the back Maguire slotted in admirably alongside Paul McShane, and Rosenior was outstanding.

It means that while the likes of Allan McGregor, Curtis Davies, James Chester, Tom Huddlestone and Livermore – all rested in Germany – may have always been inked in on today’s team-sheet, Bruce has many other options.

“I have been in the Premier League a long time now and it doesn’t get any easier,” said Hull’s 53-year-old chief.

“Every team, from top to bottom, is making their squads better. Everybody wants a slice of the Premier League and the transfer money dwarfs what was spent last year.

“We are one of 20 clubs desperate to stay in there, but there’s about 10 of us in the same boat.

“I don’t think anything changes in terms of our target.

“We have to stay in the league. We’re Hull and we have done fantastically well over the last couple of years.

“Like last year, we ask ‘Can we have a run in the cup?’ We have got Europe as an extra challenge, too. But the main thing is to stay in the Premier League.”