Belfast Telegraph

Bruce: Next game bigger than final

Hull boss Steve Bruce has labelled Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash with Leicester a bigger game than last season's FA Cup final.

The Tigers host Nigel Pearson's strugglers at the KC Stadium buoyed by their 3-1 Boxing Day win at Sunderland - a first league win in 11 attempts since October 4.

That lifted them out of the bottom three and six points clear of the rock-bottom Foxes, but Bruce knows there is still much work to be done if they are to drag themselves out of a relegation fight and for that reason, a showdown with one of their closest rivals represents an even more important occasion than the club's trip to Wembley in May.

He said: "That's what it means to me. Nigel will want to turn us over. It's a bigger game for me than the cup final because if we turn them over to go nine points clear of them at the halfway stage, it's a big turnaround to be caught, huge.

"As we've seen, it's been difficult enough to win one or two games, let alone turn around a three-game swing.

"We are there [at the bottom end of the table] ourselves. We have only been four years in our history in the division, so we are going to be in and around it, but we always expected to be.

"The league is starting to take shape. Halfway going into January, the teams you would think were going to be at the top are there - there are one or two surprises like there always is.

"The teams at the bottom, I could have told you the bottom eight going into January - I might not have got it the right way around, but we have to accept that we are going to be one of them."

The victory was all the more remarkable as it was achieved without the services of suspended midfield duo Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore and with Bruce's multi-million strike-force of Jelavic and Abel Hernandez starting on the bench.

Asked if that had been something of a gamble, the manager said: "Jelavic has done fantastically to even get back playing because when he did damage his knee - and let's be fair, he has had a cartilage operation which used to finish people 25, 30 years ago - he got back within six weeks. It's been a struggle for him, but he has got himself back on the pitch.

"Hernandez, sometimes if you pay a lot of money for a striker from abroad, you have got to give them time to adjust, and he will be a really good player, so no, it wasn't a gamble because I didn't think Jelavic was right, and of course we play two games in three days, which was obviously on my mind too."

Livermore is available once again, but James Chester will sit out against Leicester after collecting his fifth booking of the campaign at Sunderland.

Meanwhile, Nigel Pearson admits Leicester need new blood to aid their relegation fight - ahead of the crucial showdown.

The Foxes boss insists his players can survive but wants signings in the January transfer window.

He said: "I recognise we need to try and strengthen in certain areas. The players we already have here will probably benefit from additions to get the best out of here.

"The one thing we don't have in abundance is Premier League experience and know how. You can have an opinion of games just by team sheets. We need to supplement what we have - ability, commitment and desire.

"We're just missing an ingredient to win points - sticking it in or keeping it out. What we have to do in the mean time is keep going. Results like Spurs test the mental resolve of everyone.

"We want to say we're that close, we made a side that have unbelievable options all sorts of problems. I know they left relieved and saying they'd have taken a point.

"We need ingredients and in the mean time we need to stay in touch."

Pearson spent just over a year as Hull boss after leaving Leicester in 2010 before returning to the King Power Stadium in 2011.

"I'm fine with going back as long as our players perform," said Pearson, who is without the suspended Jamie Vardy.

"I don't think I am totally unpopular there, I actually thought I did a decent job given the circumstances I worked under. In terms of how I left, these things happen. I made a decision that I thought was right at the time. Managers are not always going to be universally popular.

"So if I get a bad reception, I get a bad reception. It's not about me, it's about the team. "

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