Hull City supporters’ passports had been gathering dust, but thanks to Steve Bruce, the club will be in Europe for next season. It’s a wonderful success story -- not to mention a place in the FA Cup final -- that has been achieved amid a background of uncertainty. Owner Assem Allam fought to get the club’s name changed to Hull Tigers, even threatening to walk away at one point. On the pitch, the season will go down as a success in terms of the headline-grabbing FA Cup run and qualification for Europe, but City’s form in the latter stages of the season was abysmal.
It’s a competitive field, with Tom Huddlestone among those having a claim, but Curtis Davies’ progression has been notable. He can count himself unfortunate to be overlooked for England’s World Cup squad, with Roy Hodgson not even deeming him worthy of a place on standby. Not only did he defend with authority but he was also a goal threat, as his four goals in all competitions shows. It has taken time for Davies to grow into a Premier League class defender but he is now arguably the first name on Bruce’s team-sheet.
Danny Graham scored just one goal in 20 matches for Bruce’s men during his loan spell -- the striker needed to stay behind after “school” for shooting lessons. Elsewhere, Maynor Figueroa’s alarming drop in form mirrors Hull City’s own travails in the second half of the season. He played perfectly well at the start but in the second half of the campaign he dipped significantly at a time when the team needed everyone to pull their weight. Bruce’s side took 14 points from 19 matches in 2014, which is a poor return that spoiled a fine start. Still, once Figueroa completes his detention he’s off on a trip to Brazil this summer with Honduras.
Bruce never seems to get the credit he deserves. He was savvy in the transfer market back in the summer, with his acquisitions playing a key role in keeping the team in the Premier League. Huddlestone was an astute signing and the KC Stadium was a difficult place for teams to go last season. Just ask Liverpool, with the title hopefuls soundly beaten 3-1 back in December. One criticism you could level at Bruce, though, would be that his side tailed off dramatically towards the end of the season and even the man himself admitted he failed to keep his players’ minds focussed after they reached the FA Cup final. For City, the season is far from over as they have that showpiece event at Wembley to look forward to and if Bruce orchestrates a shock over Arsenal, he could etch his name into Tigers’ folklore.
Such a grade may need to be amended if Bruce’s men win the FA Cup but as it stands, they deserve such a high mark for reaching Wembley as well as qualifying for Europe. With any team up from the Championship, the first objective is to remain in the division and City achieved that with something to spare. Admittedly, they took their eye off the ball towards the end of the campaign and Europa League football could yet drain the resources next season but try telling Tigers’ supporters that now. They’re in Europe and a major cup final; otherwise known as dreamland.