Bruce managing expectations at Hull
Something beginning with the letter "E" makes this season the most daunting of Steve Bruce's Hull City reign. It's not "Europe." The demands of Thursday night football are another issue altogether. No, on the eve of a new Premier League season, Bruce is referring instead to "expectation."
"When I walked into this club two years ago, there was no expectation at all," said Bruce earlier this summer. "Now all of a sudden, because of what we've done, there is expectation on the back of our success. That's what we've got to deal with."
More importantly, that is what Bruce has to deal with. After two seasons establishing him as the most successful manager in City's history, a third brings another, perhaps tougher, challenge. The landscape is changing ahead of a second season in the top flight, and Bruce knows the onus will always be on him to keep building.
The 53-year-old veteran of almost 700 games as a manager accepts that expectation comes with the territory. Hull have never known success like what he has delivered since arriving in the summer of 2012, but where supporters once hoped for progress under his guidance, now they take it as a given. That's how good he has been. Bruce can only hope patience, when necessary, comes in return.
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Bettering 2013-14 will require him to pull another trick from his magic hat. Not only did he deliver survival with the club's highest-ever league finish of 16th, he became the man to lead the club to its first FA Cup final. Just 19 minutes split Hull from a famous triumph over Arsenal, a heartbreak at least soothed by a maiden European adventure already underway.
A fourth commitment admittedly muddies the waters somewhat. An additional 10 games before the turn of the year will inevitably take their toll, yet there is little question this is now the greatest squad in the club's history. A summer of smart upgrades has seen to that.
Out went Robert Koren, replaced by Robert Snodgrass. Matty Fryatt has made way for Tom Ince. Harry Maguire has been signed as a replacement for Abdoulaye Faye. On top of that, there has been the permanent acquisition of Jake Livermore and the capture of Andy Robertson, the hottest property Scottish football had to offer. Bruce says he could hardly have wished for more.
Shane Long's potential exit, the subject of a remarkably steep 12 million pound offer from Southampton, would provide ripples of concern on the eve of a new season, but supporters would place trust in Bruce to fill the void if handed the windfall. His success rate in the transfer market demands nothing less, with only Nick Proschwitz, bought for 2.6 million pounds in 2012 and offloaded for free last week, falling flat.
If Long's surprising exit is a subplot of the week, the main event remains Saturday's trip to Queens Park Rangers. Loftus Road, a venue where Hull have not won in a half century, is where another season in the Premier League begins and where a quick start is needed by Bruce.
QPR, promoted out of the Championship through the playoffs, are by no means the easiest opening assignment. The timing is thankless with the exuberance of a Wembley win still bubbling. The cramped old ground in W12 will be rocking with that "E" word again.
Hull, though, will back themselves for at least a point in the capital. Bruce has them well drilled and sharp following the two Europa League games with AS Trencin, and in the short term, if not the long, that maligned competition can work in their favour. The excuse of not being ready certainly has no place.
Saturday's game is the first of five in 15 days before the September international break, and much like a chess match, August is going to need Bruce thinking one and two moves ahead. After QPR comes, there is the away leg of the Europa League playoff with Belgian side Lokeren, and three days later it is Stoke at home. Lokeren visit in the return leg the following Thursday before a trip to Aston Villa affords the first breathing space.
None of the next five games has the ability to strike fear into Hull, but the congestion makes the month far harder than it might have been. Supporters will expect to see the Premier League season up and running with at least one win from three. And there's that word again: Hull expect, and Bruce is confident of delivering.