Memories not money will be Hull's driving force, says Bruce

MANAGER Steve Bruce has challenged his Hull City side to enjoy 'the best day of their footballing lives' by winning the Championship play-off final.

Hull City manager Steve Bruce says the Championship play-off final will be an occasion for someone to stand up and be a hero (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).

The Tigers take on Sheffield Wednesday in an all-Yorkshire affair at Wembley that carries a £200m windfall for the winners.

Despite Saturday’s clash being billed as the richest game in world football, Bruce insists the chance to reclaim a place in the Premier League and not the huge sums of money on offer is what will motivate his players.

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And the three-time promotion winner points to the day his Birmingham City side triumphed in the 2002 play-off final on penalties as proof of what piece of history the Tigers squad can create by prevailing at Wembley.

Hull City manager Steve Bruce says the Championship play-off final will be an occasion for someone to stand up and be a hero (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).

“It is a huge game for obvious reasons,” said Bruce, who admits goalkeeper Allan McGregor is losing his battle to be fit for the final. “And the big ones are the ones you remember as long as they go your way.

“If you have got anything about you, when you put your slippers on after everything is done and dusted, you look back at the big occasions that you have been involved in.

“I bumped into Michael Johnson recently at Derby. I’d had him at Birmingham and he said, ‘Can you believe it is 14 years ago since we got up via the play-offs? It was the best day of my life, football wise’.

“I think that shows what this can mean. It can be the best day of their footballing lives. You have to try and get that across to the players.

Hull City manager Steve Bruce says the Championship play-off final will be an occasion for someone to stand up and be a hero (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire).

“We know what is at stake, but the one thing that footballers don’t worry about on the pitch is money.

“All this about it being a £200m game, it is not about that. Instead, it is just about performing on the biggest stage and someone being a hero. That is what we have to remember.

“On the big occasions, experience usually helps you and we have been to Wembley recently. Make no mistake, though, even the experienced players and managers can get themselves in a state with it, it is only human.

“It is then how you deal with it and how you manage it. You have got to try and enjoy it because these games don’t come around very often.”

Wednesday yesterday sold out their 38,889 allocation of tickets for the first all-Yorkshire Championship play-off final and are likely to outnumber their Hull counterparts.

Asked about the threat posed by the Owls, Bruce replied: “I said it as far back as last September that this is the best Sheffield Wednesday team for a long while.

“They have quietly gone about their business but, up the top end of the pitch, they have got some very good players.

“Fernando Forestieri was their marquee signing last summer and I have to say I was a bit surprised that Watford sold him. I thought he had a future in the Premier League.

“Sheffield Wednesday stepped in and you have to say he is their talisman. He is given a free role and he’s a good player.”

For Hull, goalkeeper McGregor has been told by Bruce that he must train by tomorrow at the latest to remain in contention for a place at Wembley.

The Scottish international missed both semi-final legs against Derby County with a back injury and he remains troubled by the problem despite intensive treatment.

If McGregor misses out, Eldin Jakupovic will deputise. He has made just 26 appearances in four seasons for the Tigers, the majority of which have come in the cups.

Jakupovic did, though, begin both play-off ties against the Rams, while he started against Bolton Wanderers and Brentford in the Championship during the final fortnight of the season as Bruce chose to give his fringe players a run out.

Curtis Davies believes those recent outings, plus the plaudits that Jakupovic earned in February when keeping Arsenal out at the Emirates in a goalless FA Cup tie, will stand the Swiss international in good stead.

“There could have been a problem if Eldin hadn’t already played games,” said the defender. “But Eldin has played games for us recently.

“Allan is struggling and he is being given the chance to try and get back. But, unfortunately, it is looking less likely that will happen.

“No 2 ‘keeper is the hardest position in the world. Unless the No 1 gets sent off or injured, you don’t get a chance.

“But Eldin has games under his belt this season and, as a ‘keeper, that is good because it gives you a feel. It is not like coming in as a striker, where the ball can bounce in off your backside and you have a goal. You have to be bang on it as ‘keeper.

“The games Eldin has had have been big, too. The two Derby games, which were massive, mean he will be going into the final in a composed way. He will be ready, rather than thinking, ‘I’m in but haven’t really played’.

“If he hadn’t got those games, going to Wembley might have been daunting.

“Eldin is a good character. Me, him, Allan (McGregor) and Dave Myler have a card school on the bus. Mind, Eldin cheats a bit at cards. He is always counting in his language. He will count 10 cards, but only has five points. No, seriously, he is a good lad and has been very good when called upon this season so, fingers crossed, he will be the same at Wembley.”