Bruce imagines what might have been
Hull boss Steve Bruce has admitted he never imagined the Tigers would be fighting for their Barclays Premier League lives after starting their campaign with arguably the strongest squad in the club's history.
Bruce was widely credited with landing the pick of the transfer deadline day buys with Abel Hernandez, Mohamed Diame, Gaston Ramirez and on-loan Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa all arriving at the KC Stadium.
But injuries and inconsistency have left Bruce's men in the perilous position of needing to beat Manchester United on Sunday if they are to stand any chance of avoiding the drop - they must also rely on Newcastle to drop points against West Ham.
Bruce said: "At the end of August when I looked at the squad I didn't think we would be in this situation. There have been many reasons why but I don't really want to make excuses - this isn't the time for it.
"We've had a tough four or five months with big players not being able to take part but we've got to take it on the chin and accept we haven't been good enough. We've got one last chance to redeem ourselves."
Hull's woes have largely coincided with the long absences suffered by striker Nikica Jelavic, who is now back from problematic knee surgery and aiming to hit the vital winner against the club Bruce graced as a player with such aplomb but has failed to beat in 21 managerial attempts.
Despite a promising start Hernandez struggled to adapt to Premier League life, while Diame and Ramirez have suffered injuries and Ben Arfa's undoubted talent belied an attitude problem which swiftly saw him shipped off elsewhere.
The arrival of Dame N'Doye gave his side's survival hopes a fillip with back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Liverpool but his threat has waned and Bruce has been left to bemoan his side's fortunes in front of goal.
He added: " In training they whistle in the top corner and all the rest of it. I've always said any team you manage is only as good as your strikers.
"We've missed Jelavic badly because when you look at when he's in the team it shows you what might have happened. We haven't scored enough goals.
"You can practice all you like but it's about when the big game turns up can you stick it in the net."
All of which leaves Bruce facing up to the prospect of the pain of relegation for the first time since he went down with Birmingham in 1996 - and he admits it is not a prospect he is looking forward to if things do not go the Tigers' way on Sunday.
He added: "The one thing you don't want to be involved in is a relegation fight. It's nice going the other way but coming out of the Premier League has horrible cuts on everyone.
"People lose their jobs, their livelihood, everything is cut back to the bone. It's an awful situation. That's the worst thing, and you have to start all over again."
Hull's form against the big clubs this season - beating Liverpool at home and taking points away at the Etihad Stadium and the Emirates - gives Bruce hope that he can fashion one last miracle and consign his boyhood heroes Newcastle to the drop instead.
But he acknowledges he has endured a lot of disappointments since those bright days at the end of August when Europa League trips beckoned and few were predicting the Tigers would struggle to avoid the drop.
Bruce added: " There haven't been many highs - it's been a long difficult season for us for one reason or another
"But hopefully our moment is about to come. It's going to be tall order and we understand that but we know we've got a chance."