STEVE BRUCE had two very contrasting evenings against Ronald Koeman as a player.
The first ended happily, as two goals from Mark Hughes helped Manchester United and Bruce lift the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Barcelona in Rotterdam.
Three-and-a-half-years later, however, and the renowned Catalan club – with Koeman again in defence – exacted revenge in quite brutal fashion.
In a game Bruce rates even now as “the worst of my career”, the Red Devils were ripped apart by Hristo Stoichkov and Romario en route to a 4-0 hammering in the Nou Camp.
Today, the two former defenders will be in direct opposition again and there can be little doubt that the stakes are much higher for Bruce and his Hull City side.
“I remember both of them really well,” said the 54-year-old when asked about facing Koeman and Barcelona as a player.
“Sometimes the word ‘great’ is used too often. But he was a great player. He played for the mighty Barcelona, and smashed in the winner at Wembley in (the) 1992 (European Cup final triumph).
“As for that night in the Nou Camp, he might have played against us (4-0). I don’t really remember. I just remember Romario and Stoichkov…. or I remember seeing their backsides, at least, as I tried to chase them!
“In 1991, we got the better of Ronald and his team that first time, so let’s hope we can do it again at St Mary’s against a very good side.”
Last weekend was a nightmare for City, as the combination of a largely self-inflicted defeat at Swansea City plus wins for Leicester City, Sunderland and QPR plunged the club deeper into relegation trouble.
Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative may still be one place above the drop zone but a run-in that includes meetings with five of the top seven means it is going to be a nervous next few weeks at the KC Stadium.
“We have got to stay positive,” said Bruce when asked what will be key to survival during those final few weeks.
“You cannot beat yourself up. The one thing that I have said repeatedly is that when things are going well, do not get too carried away.
“Equally, when things aren’t going so well for you, you can’t beat yourself up so badly. You have got to remain positive and strong if you can.
“There are seven big games left and I am confident we’ll get enough points to get over the line.”
This week’s rescheduling of the Liverpool fixture to April 28 due to the Reds’ involvement in the FA Cup semi-finals means City will play four of their last five games at home.
A further consequence, however, is that the club’s next two games will be on the road, at St Mary’s and Crystal Palace a fortnight today.
That and next weekend being blank means things may yet get worse for the Tigers before they can get better, underlining again the need for calm heads both on the pitch and in the stands.
“Make no mistake, we will have to be at our best to get something off this lot,” said Bruce, who is unlikely to hand a start to Mohamed Diame despite his return from a four month lay-off at Swansea.
“They are a very good side, as has been proved all season. Southampton have been in the top five or six all season.
“But I do think there are many twists and turns still to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes to the wire. The key is our own accumulation of points.
“A month ago, we were back level-par in terms of points per games but now we are not. We have to get back to that.”
Standing potentially in the way of City and a possible points boost today is Shane Long, the striker who was sold to Southampton for £12m in August.
The Republic of Ireland striker had only joined the Tigers eight months earlier but the offer from Koeman proved too good to turn down, leaving Bruce fully aware that today could see Long bite back.
“In management, you have to make decisions,” said Bruce, who yesterday publicly backed goalkeeper Allan McGregor despite a string of recent mistakes.
“At the time, (Robert) Snodgrass had just been ruled out for the year and the additional money we got for Longy enabled us to go and strengthen the squad.
“Looking back in hindsight, people will say, ‘Was it right or wrong?’ But with the injuries we have had this year, the three or four players I was able to go out and get gave us the strength in depth we have needed.
“At the time, it was a terrific offer and I made the decision that it would benefit the club. You always worry that it (Long possibly scoring today) is going to be one of those awful moments, but that is what management is all about.”
On the six-way scrap to avoid the drop, Bruce is hoping his own past experience – he was relegated at Birmingham but, otherwise, has survived several years in the top flight – can give Hull an edge.
He added: “The one thing you hope that the experience will give you is that the Premier League is not a given.
“You hope your experience of being in this situation before and getting out of it can help. Certainly, with seven games to go, there’s more twists and turns to come. We would be naïve to believe otherwise.
“It was a big weekend and a disappointing one for us because we didn’t play well against Swansea in the first half, and everyone else got a result. We have got to go and turn the tables this week.
“Can we go get a result where not many people are expected to? After Southampton, we have got four of the six at home – which I think is a vitally important advantage at this particular time of the season.”