HULL CITY manager Steve Bruce believes his “big game” players will rise to the challenge once the Championship play-offs get under way.
The Tigers face Derby County over two legs in their quest to book a place in the Wembley final on May 28.
Having led the table for eight-and-a-half weeks this season and been in the automatic promotion slots for the best part of four months, a fourth place finish came as something of a disappointment.
A tendency to struggle against the teams at the wrong end of the table was a big problem, as illustrated by Hull having dropped points against all but Fulham of the bottom seven clubs this term.
Ahead of meeting the Rams in Saturday’s first leg, however, Bruce believes the magnitude of the play-offs will serve to inspire his players.
He said: “We have beaten the two top teams handsomely at the KC, Burnley and Middlesbrough, and lost narrowly at their place, so we know we are capable.
“I just hope the big game, the big atmosphere, the big challenge will see us shine. It is going to be tight. They have beaten us twice so they are going to fancy their chances, but I know we are capable.”
Hull’s promotion bid was reinvigorated by the final day hammering meted out to Rotherham United on an afternoon when Bruce reverted to his most experienced line-up.
He added: “If we don’t go up, this season won’t feel like a success. But, let’s be fair, last summer everyone was thinking we might go through the division.
“There were no signings coming in, people were wondering what was going to happen, this, that and the other.
“For a club like ours, finishing fourth in the Championship has to be seen as an achievement.
“Not the greatest achievement because we all wanted to go up and we were capable.
“But consistency is the magic word in the Championship and not having that has cost us.
“I could give you five or six games where you were scratching your head wondering how you have lost to certain teams. We lost 11 games and that is too many.”
Bruce is expected to stick with the same starting XI that faced Rotherham when Hull travel to Derby this weekend.
The Rams are the only club to do the double over the Tigers this season, but the East Riding club have still been installed as the bookmakers’ favourites to triumph in the Championship play-offs.
On the challenges that lie ahead in the next three weeks, Bruce added: “Let’s face it, in three weeks we could be back in the Premier League. Then it is all hunky dory and we are all delighted with the season.
“I do believe that the club has made some really big strides in the last four years, but we all hope that we can be back in the big league next season. That is where everyone wants to be.
“The outlook, whether we are promoted or not, will still be that the club has finished fourth in the Championship.
“A club like Sheffield Wednesday has not been in the Premier League for 16 years and we seem to have the pet lip on because we have finished fourth.
“It is amazing how expectations can change. We’ve obviously got things to improve on, we understand that, but overall we’re doing okay.
“We’ve been in the Premier League, we have been to a Cup final and Europe. It would be huge to go up, but there are another three clubs thinking the same.
“But the performance against Rotherham should stand us in good stead, and help us get to where we all want to be.”
David Meyler, who has missed the last four games through injury, yesterday returned to training and could be in line to make the squad for Saturday.