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Mar 23, 2014

Bruce deserving of praise after another Hull win


Awards season is upon the football world and there is one man in East Yorkshire compiling an unlikely case for honours. Steve Bruce, the unfashionable leader of an unfashionable club, must surely warrant consideration for the Manager of the Year prize. No doubt it will eventually be presented to Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini or Brendan Rodgers, the three big hitters at the summit of the Premier League. Even Tony Pulis may be in with a shout should Crystal Palace complete a miraculous survival. Yet talk of Bruce winning such an award should not be dismissed as fanciful by the cognoscenti. In guiding Hull City to the brink of survival in their first season back in the top-flight, the 53-year-old has made fools of those who widely predicted an instant return to the Championship. And then there's the FA Cup adventure. Only League One Sheffield United stand between the Tigers and a first major final at Wembley next month. - Report: Hull City 2-0 West Brom - Toe Poke: Bruce marvels at Rooney goal These things are not supposed to happen to Hull City, yet Bruce is slowly undermining all convention at the KC Stadium in that amiable but assured manner of his. As such, his popularity knows no bounds. On the field at least, Bruce and City have promoted a model of stability this season. While the table's bottom six have all changed their manager in the last six months, rocking the boat to varying degrees of success, the Tigers have trusted the man that inspired an ascent last Spring to ensure relegation is carefully averted. That ambition is now within touching distance. Bruce has been supported in the transfer market, too. Handed a kitty of around 25 million pounds to spend over the last 12 months, this has not been survival on a shoestring by any stretch. When he has prised opened the chequebook, though, he has made it count. Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies, Allan McGregor, Ahmed Elmohamady have made 113 Premier League appearances since their arrival as the big four summer signings, while Jake Livermore is another to have played a significant role on loan from Spurs. When they needed a lift in January, in came Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic. The pair have now scored six goals in their eight starts together. Yes, Long and Jelavic cost 14 million pounds, but that only puts them in the same financial bracket as flops such as Jozy Altidore, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Andreas Cornelius. Having money is one thing, spending it wisely is quite another. Victories in the transfer market have been relentless for Bruce this season and it was never more apparent than on a pivotal afternoon at the KC Stadium. Against a West Brom side that saw fit to cash in on Long two months ago, inexplicably selling to a relegation rival, the inevitable occurred to lift City as far away from the bottom three as they have ever been this season. Long could not stay out of the spotlight against his former club. Winning a contentious penalty when going down easily in the penalty area ahead of Craig Dawson, he was chastised for diving by the disgruntled away fans. Harsh given the fact he bounced straight back up and failed to appeal but that was nonetheless the key moment that swung the game his side's way. A wound was opened and in followed the salt. Shabby defending eight minutes later allowed Long an instinctive chance, which he gobbled up with the type of controlled first-time finish you pay 6.5 million pounds for. West Brom chairman Jeremy Peace must have sunk deep into his chair at the KC Stadium. The balance sheets may look better in Long's absence but the Baggies' survival chances do not. That judgement almost became further flawed when Long struck a post after the break with a sweet curling drive from the edge of the box. That really would have been embarrassing. Instead it was left to City's polished defensive unit to grind out three points. West Brom rallied and pushed their hosts back into anxious territory, but the central pairing of James Chester and Curtis Davies, another vilified old boy, would not be compromised. Liam Rosenior, scorer of his first goal since October 2009, duly brought a sense of glory to the unit. It all leaves the Tigers just one shy of Bruce's 10-win target with eight games still to play. The manager has seen too much to celebrate just yet but has also seen enough to know the finishing line is in crisp focus. Maybe then Bruce will get the plaudits he richly deserves.