Hull City: This Could Be Grim

Take away the FA Cup run and it wasn't a great season for Hull, who only look marginally stronger this time around. And Bruce has been relegated before with Birmingham...

Last Updated: 05/08/14 at 15:55 Post Comment

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Alex Bruce of Hull City

Alex Bruce of Hull City

LAST SEASON
Premier League
16th, 37pts, -15 GD FA Cup Finalists League Cup Fourth round Top league scorer Shane Long, Nikica Jelavic 4 each Bookings 54 (15th highest) with four red cards.

Manager Steve Bruce (since June 2012; age 53) Odds on being first out of his job 25-1 (9th=)

Players in Jake Livermore (Tottenham, £8m), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich, £7m), Tom Ince (Blackpool, fee TBC), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United, £2.85m), Karim Rossi (Stoke)

Players out Matty Fryatt (Nottingham Forest, free), Cameron Stewart (Ipswich Town), Mark Oxley (Hibernian, loan), Conor Townsend (Dundee United, loan), Joe Dudgeon (Barnsley, loan), Robert Koren, Abdoulaye Faye (both released)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £17m

Wage bill in 2012-13 £25.9m

For a promoted side, staying up in the first season is usually the limit of ambition and often an achievement beyond them. Hull not only survived - unlike the team that beat then to the Championship title in 2013 - but also added a first FA Cup final appearance; after nine astonishing minutes at Wembley they led Arsenal 2-0.

Alas, Steve Bruce's side could hold the two-goal advantage for only eight minutes and just when Arsenal nerves would have been fraying, Laurent Koscielny equalised, and Aaron Ramsey won it in extra time. Still, Hull have made their European debut, not a sentence anyone would have predicted writing a year ago (alas, poor Tom Huddlestone).

The problem for Bruce is what happens if you strip away Wembley, and imagine a season without Cardiff and Fulham losing their way so badly. Though 40 points is no longer usually required for safety, 37 is too low a total for comfort. All but one of those was gained before the semi-final defeat of Sheffield United and it would be tempting to attribute the late-season slump to the build-up for a Wembley return. However, the opposition in the last five games included Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton, so if 40 had been needed then two more points could have been required at Fulham and one at Aston Villa.

Hull played only one top-flight side en route to facing Arsenal at Wembley, beating a crestfallen Sunderland fresh from their Capital One Cup final defeat. Without Yannick Sagbo's 85th-minute equaliser at Brighton in round five, how would Hull's season look? And there was always the prospect of the campaign turning sour in the manner of Cardiff's.

First, you have to acknowledge the truth of the Allams' position, that without their investment Hull would be in penury rather than the Premier League. At the same time, there would be no club without the supporters, who understand that ditching City in favour of Tigers to transform the club's appeal abroad is naive. The problem with selling the club is the first half of the name - not that there is anything wrong with Hull, but it is not Manchester, or Liverpool, or Arsenal, Chelsea or Spurs, tags that come with global recognition.

The foundation of their survival lay in three wins in the opening six matches, against Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham, added to a home draw with a still-balanced Cardiff. Given that two of the opening three games were at Chelsea and Manchester City, ten points that early was an excellent return and it meant that Hull always kept at least their necks out of the mire.

This season Bruce's team have early chances they must seize on, from trips to QPR and Aston Villa either side of Stoke's visit in August. The international break is followed by West Ham coming to the KC then the journey from the east of the north to the north-east, and Newcastle, before Manchester City travel to complete September.

Also important last season was the fact that the inevitable dips did not break morale. After beating Liverpool on December 1, there was only one more three-point haul in the next 11 games, but that was a 6-0 seasonal thumping of Fulham that will have done everyone concerned a power of good.

Hull are stronger than a year ago. It is a coup to have brought in Tom Ince, provided that there are no complications related to his famous father. Robert Snodgrass has been brought in for £7m and Jake Livermore for £1m more, though that is a conversion from last season's loan. Those leaving contributed little to the cause in 2013-14, Robert Koren perhaps the most noteworthy.

Bruce is still busy looking for more players and has been linked with Michael Dawson and Geoff Cameron. He was relegated with arguably the strongest side he had at Birmingham and must be aware that Hull benefited from the failings of others last season. Europe is more of a distraction than a benefit for a side not likely to feature regularly and without the resources to compete. Yet without the mitigating factor of another cup run it could be a grim season - especially if they cannot repeat last year's flying start.

Philip Cornwall

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