AS Hull City prepare to host Arsenal in what is being billed in some quarters as a dress rehearsal for next month’s FA Cup final, manager Steve Bruce insists his only concern tomorrow will be taking another step towards safety.
The Tigers are six points clear of Premier League survival – or seven, once their superior goal difference is taken into account – after reaching their boss’s pre-season target of 10 wins in their previous league outing at home to Swansea City.
Since then, Hull have booked their place in next month’s Cup final to raise hopes of a first tilt at European competition next term.
Hull’s run to Wembley has led to talk of Bruce being a leading contender for Manager of the Year, but the man himself insists his only priority is ensuring the East Riding club finish the campaign strongly.
“I would love to beat Arsenal because that would mean we were 100 per cent safe in my eyes,” said the Hull chief ahead of tomorrow’s game with the Gunners at the KC Stadium.
“That is all I am interested in really. What will be will be in terms of all the other stuff (Europa League qualification).
“Let’s just make sure we beat Arsenal and make sure we stay in the Premier League.
“We have got five games to play and we know it is a tough run-in and this is a time when unusual results happen.
“We have seen Palace win at Everton, Fulham win back-to-back and Cardiff win at Southampton. It is a tough league.
“I have said all along that we would be very unlucky to go down with 38 points and I still think that will be the case.
“Most clubs have four games to go and some teams would need to win three just to get there. It is a big ask.”
Hull’s chances of playing in next season’s Europa League hinge on the Gunners.
If the Yorkshire side prevail at Wembley on May 17, they will go straight into the group stage of the 2014-15 competition.
However, should Arsenal lift the Cup and end Arsene Wenger’s nine-year wait for a trophy, Hull’s hopes will rest on whether the North London side finish in the top four or not and qualify for the Champions League.
If that proves to be the case, the Tigers would go into the qualifying stage as the lowest placed English qualifier behind (as it stands now) Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
That would mean a likely early start, with Swansea (lowest placed last year) kicking off on August 1 at home to Malmo last summer.
Should Arsenal be pipped to fifth, however, and win the Cup then the final Europa League place will go to the seventh-placed club, which at the moment is champions Manchester United.
Bruce added: “It is quite ridiculous that a year ago we were playing in the Championship so to even think about Hull City playing in Europe is incredible.
“I would like to do it the real way and that is beating Arsenal in the Cup final because then you don’t have to go through all the qualifiers.
“If you get there as runners-up you could be looking at starting your season at the end of July, I believe.
“If we are going to qualify for Europe, let’s beat Arsenal at Wembley because then we are automatically in.”
Asked if the possibility of playing in the Europa League was making planning for Hull’s summer recruitment work difficult, Bruce replied: “It is all right saying we would need a bigger squad, but you are only allowed 25 (players in a squad).
“All of those things you would take into account, but my biggest concern is setting up pre-season. Usually, you know when it is starting but, at the minute, we can’t do that. It could be very difficult if we go down the route of playing at the end of July.”
Wenger has been among those hailing the impact Bruce has made at Hull, the Gunners’ chief labelling the “exceptional work” that has transformed the Yorkshire club’s fortunes.
The Frenchman also said that the Tigers’ chief should be considered as a contender for the prestigious Manager of the Year award.
“That is very kind of him,” said Bruce when asked about Wenger’s comments. “But, for me, the manager of the year is Sean Dyche. He has done a remarkable job (at Burnley).
“Brendan Rodgers too, and Tony Pulis. I said at the time of his appointment that it was the worst thing that could have happened to us at the bottom.
“When Palace appointed Tony, they gave themselves a great chance. What he has done is terrific.
“There are a number of managers in with a great shout. As for myself, if we secure it and get to a FA Cup final, then great.
“It is nice to be appreciated by other managers because we all realise what a difficult job it is. But we haven’t done anything yet.
“If we stay up and win the thing then it would be truly remarkable. Just getting there is not enough. Then let us be judged.”