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Aug 23, 2014

Do City care about Europe or not?

Hull City fans enjoyed their trip to Belgium despite the defeat in Europa League qualifying -- but the match has raised questions about whether the club are keen on a prolonged run in Europe.

It isn't an uncommon occurrence for Hull City fans to rejoice in a brilliant away day even if the team itself performs poorly. And so we come to the prime emotion of the Tiger Nation's return home from a 1-0 defeat to Lokeren in Europa League qualifying.

- Report: Tigers tamed by Lokeren

Steve Bruce, who has so far been faultless as team manager, lost a few friends when he picked an indecently weakened team, something that sticks in the craw of supporters who have shelled out very good money on travelling to watch the game.

That said, the team he did pick should have been good enough -- 10 of the starting 11 had Premier League mileage behind them -- but ultimately the tinkering with formation and personnel made for a very clunky, stunted display.

No matter if Hull turn it round at the KC next Thursday. A 1-0 deficit against a side that neutral observers of each league put as a mid-Championship standard outfit should feel straightforward but suddenly there is doubt about how Bruce sees the competition. Go through and there's money and prestige, but also a six game group stage that will test the depth and stamina of the squad when many, unfortunately, see Premier League games as the priority. There may be method in that argument in December, but not in August.

Such is the novelty status of Hull City as both a Premier League team and now a side playing continental football that the national media have still not chosen to televise any of their three games so far. This is a pity, as on a local level the Euro adventure has caught on tremendously, with a sell-out crowd seeing the team beat AS Trencin 2-1 in the qualifier a fortnight ago and it's all the supporters can talk about.

Lokeren were buoyed by the disjointed nature of the City formation though ultimately lacked real penetration, with the only goal coming after City keeper Allan McGregor miskicked a clearance midway through the second half and allowed Hans Vanaken to snaffle the ball and round the distraught Scotsman to score.

Afterwards, the occasion was ruined by the heavy handed antics of gun-toting police, who had the full riot regalia but chose not to use it when Hull fans were pelted with bottles from a pub that was known to house regularly a group of Lokeren fans who were banned from attending matches.

Young and old were hurt by flying glass and it took some time before officers finally stormed in to stop the attacks, allowing the away supporters to continue their walk back to Lokeren station, with no medical help offered to those bloodied by the glass. Eventually, a seething but peaceable Hull contingent boarded the trains to Gent and Brussels to reflect on everything that had occurred.

The football club put out a statement that condemned their banned louts as "nitwits" -- a weak insult in one way, but beautifully informal and effective in context -- while the local constabulary used the phrase "riot" when one had not occurred, something which they later retracted.

Humberside Police, meanwhile, did their usual shtick of automatically assuming culpability from the Hull fans before hastily withdrawing their statement after the protests from all ages and factions of Tigers support proved most stirring.

And now, the group stages are a clean sheet and a brace of goals away and the KC will fill without a problem next Thursday. Where the club stands with the idea of a prolonged European escapade is now a tad in doubt, sadly, but to the supporters it maintains the absolute priority.

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