RECENT history may suggest that Hull City are in an enviable position at the halfway stage of the Championship but Steve Bruce insists his players are taking nothing for granted.
The Tigers went into the Christmas period sitting second in the table, three points behind leaders Cardiff City and a point clear of Crystal Palace in third.
With seven points also separating Yorkshire’s highest-placed team from Millwall just outside the play-offs, City supporters are understandably excited about what may lay ahead in the coming weeks and months.
Recent history backs up this growing optimism, too, with five of the teams sitting second at Christmas in the last 10 seasons going on to win automatic promotion.
Another three, including West Ham United last term, went on to qualify for the play-offs in either third or fourth place, with only Leeds United in 2010-11 and Preston North End four years earlier failing to finish in the top six after being second ahead of the Boxing Day fixtures.
All in all, therefore, it has been a wonderful Christmas time for the Tigers, who today look to maintain a 100 per cent winning record in December when Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City come to the KC Stadium.
Manager Bruce said: “In management, you are never happy all the time. Or you shouldn’t be, anyway. There have been times when we could have done better but, quietly, I have been really happy with how things have gone.
“Credit (is due) to everyone for buying into the sort of spirit we wanted. You can see it in the players, there is a bounce there and they look as though they are enjoying themselves.
“But, as I have said so many times in the past, it is no good being top of the league at Christmas. We need to be there when the daffodils come up. If we are still there or thereabouts then, we will have a chance.”
Hull have won 14 of their 23 games this season and lost seven, with one of those reverses having come against Leicester in September.
Bruce added: “Leicester played very well against us earlier in the season (to win 3-1) and I am looking forward to the challenge of taking them on at our place.
“They are a very good team and I genuinely believe they are definitely one of the sides to beat.
“Leicester are not on the best run of form but them and Cardiff have shown enough in the first half of the season to tell me they will be up there.
“It will be a really big Boxing Day clash and let us hope we can be at our best.”
Bruce’s impact since taking over in the summer has been impressive, not least in the way he has transformed City into a much more expansive outfit by playing a 3-5-2 formation that sees both wing backs encouraged to get forward.
As the Hull manager concedes, however, today will be a tough start to the second half of the season against a Leicester side who sit fifth and were unfortunate to lose at home to leaders Cardiff on Saturday.
The Tigers have also lost the last two games against their former manager to leave defender Jack Hobbs, who played under Pearson at both Leicester and Hull, admitting the Yorkshire side face a big challenge.
Hobbs, who recently returned from long-term injury, said: “It is a big game. There is obviously the added spice of Nigel coming back with Leicester, and having spent a few years there myself it will be a big game for me.
“It is a great Boxing Day fixture for everyone and it is one we will be going into full of confidence.
“Getting the better of the teams in and around you is very important and if we can get the three points, the gap between us and them will grow.
“But it will be tough. Leicester have got some quality players and they have spent a lot of money over the last couple of years. We know they will have their strengths but it is up to us to try and nullify them.”
Elsewhere in the Championship, Leeds United will be looking to put down an early Boxing Day marker at Nottingham Forest.
Victory in the lunchtime televised kick-off would be enough to propel Neil Warnock’s men up to fifth and above Leicester, albeit possibly only for a couple of hours until the rest of the Championship programme has been played.
If Leeds can win at the City Ground, they will move to within three points of Middlesbrough, who entertain Blackburn Rovers today.
Huddersfield Town, without a win in seven league games, host Blackpool looking to use the weekend draw with high-flying Palace as a springboard for an upturn in results.
Near the foot of the table, both Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday are looking to build on weekend wins as they face Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers, respectively. Supporters of the two South Yorkshire clubs can, like their Hull counterparts, take encouragement from recent history with only six of the 20 teams sitting either third or fourth bottom in the last 10 years having gone on to be relegated.
In contrast, only Doncaster Rovers in 2008-09 have stayed up when occupying a place in the bottom two on Christmas Day.
Last six games: Hull City LDWWWW, Leicester City WLWDLL.
Referee: C Pawson (South Yorkshire). Last time: Hull City 2 Leicester City 1; December 3, 2011; Championship.