Tigers chief Bruce looking for a happy return

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MANCHESTER UNITED may be the team that Steve Bruce is most synonymous with due to the tremendous success he enjoyed in almost a decade at Old Trafford.

But in terms of service to a club, the 51-year-old’s association with Birmingham City runs his time with the Premier League giants close after first joining as a player and then returning as manager in 2001.

Much has, of course, changed at St Andrews since the days when Bruce patrolled the touchline but the Hull City manager admits to still looking forward to today’s return.

Bruce said: “I had a wonderful time at Birmingham. Six-and-a-half years as manager and a couple of seasons as a player towards the end of my career were both things I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Managing the club is what I remember most fondly. The opportunity came along at just the right time for me. We managed to win promotion twice and also had a few years in the Premier League. As for highlights of my time at Birmingham, winning promotion in the (2002) play-off final against Norwich City was special. That is always a great way to go up.

“But, for me, the big highlight was being in the same division as Aston Villa. That hadn’t happened for such a long time and it meant so much to the supporters when we finished above them.”

Birmingham claimed those ‘Second City’ bragging rights in their first season back in the top-flight, when a league double over Villa was the prelude to the Blues finishing above their hated rivals for the first time since the Seventies.

Since those heady days, however, much has changed with Birmingham suffering terrible off-field problems.

Relegation came in 2011 and this season has been a struggle for new manager Lee Clark, whose side sit 19th in the Championship.

The Blues have, though, enjoyed something of an upturn in form of late courtesy of just one defeat in six league outings.

Bruce said: “Nothing surprises me in this division, to be honest. The longer I am in it, the more that rule applies. But Birmingham do have a squad on paper that compares well with the rest.

“Players like (Nikola) Zigic, (Marlon) King and (Chris) Burke are all very good players so it will be a big test. I’ve been back before with Wigan but I am still looking forward to the game.

“We are going into it on the back of a defeat at Cardiff so we want to put that right.

“This was always going to be a tough period with Burnley and Crystal Palace to come before the end of the month so it would be great to get a win.”