Premier League Preview: Hull City
Lessons from last season
On the pitch it was the absolute zenith of the club's 110 years. Premier League survival was secured with relative ease, and although they warranted more, Hull City's final position of 16th was as good as it's ever been for football fans in East Yorkshire. The FA Cup final was the icing on the cake. Yes, it ended with a cruel and agonising defeat to Arsenal, but ask any of the City fans present on that day and memories of May 17 will evoke a smile.
The only downside of 2013-14 were the rumbles of discontent emanating from the Hull Tigers name-change row. A fractious 12 months has left a section of supporters feeling a long way from the club they hold dear, and that was a crying shame in such a golden spell. Unity is needed for the long term and bridges are slowly being built.
Predicted starting lineup
Four new arrivals have joined last season's loan star Jake Livermore in making this a productive offseason for Steve Bruce's side. Not only has he kept the ground-breaking group of last season intact, he has addressed key areas of his squad. Robert Snodgrass and Tom Ince will be tasked with injecting fresh life into the attacking ranks, while Andy Robertson and Harry Maguire are two youngsters who will join an already competent defence.
City have never spent more in a transfer window than this summer, but the core of British and Irish talent makes this feel a lot like the group that excelled last season. Bruce knows what he likes and sticks with it. That means foreign influences are few and even those exceptions are well-versed in the demands of English football. Bruce is a creature of habit, and it has been wonderfully effective so far.
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Bruce has moulded a team in his style as a player: honest and resolute. Only when the FA Cup final began to loom large at the end of last season did the goals begin to leak in, and even allowing for the 13 conceded in the last five league games, City ended the season with just 53 goals shipped in 38 games. That was the reason they avoided an instant return to the Championship, and it remains the biggest reason they can prosper again. The favoured three-man defence is cautious and reins in attacking instincts, but few teams were ever able to run riot. City's shape is always disciplined and strong, and another asset is the togetherness fostered by Bruce.
Scoring goals. No one managed more than four last season in the Premier League. Top of the charts in all competitions was Matty Fryatt, a forward no longer with the club, and second was central defender Curtis Davies. Those statistics tell their own story, and without a genuine striker landed this summer the onus will fall on Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic to right the wrongs of recent times. They cost 14 million pounds in January and, to their credit, chipped in with eight goals during the second half of the season.
The other concern going into the season is whether City can handle Europe. Newcastle and Swansea both suffered worrying slumps when spending Thursday nights traipsing around the continent, and progress into the group stages this month would bring a whole new challenge. Not only will Bruce need to be a good manager, he will need to be a lucky one on the injury front.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
The popularity of Steve Bruce continues to know no bounds in East Yorkshire. Everything he has touched has turned to gold during two seasons at the KC Stadium. Just look at the bookends of his recently celebrated century. The first was a Capital One Cup tie with Rotherham United on the eve of a season in the Championship, and the 100th was the club's debut in Europe. No. 99 wasn't bad either: the club's first FA Cup final.
Finding another season to rival the past two is not going to be easy, but he has the backing of every supporter. Even when the sticky spells inevitably arrive, there will be no dissent from the terraces. Loyalty has been banked through two years of huge success, but Bruce will not want it to end here. Even at 53 he will not tire of chasing rainbows.
Nikica Jelavic only arrived at the KC Stadium in January, yet he still ended the season as the club's joint-top goal scorer in the Premier League. City have not seen a player get into double figures since Matty Fryatt's exploits in 2011-12, a spell that encompasses the whole of Steve Bruce's reign, and they would desperately want one to stand up this season.
Jelavic can be that man. While strike partner Shane Long is the more natural threat to defenders with his pace and movement, Jelavic is the man often in the right areas. His four goals last season could have been seven or eight with better finishing and his time with Everton showed he is capable of delivering in the Premier League. Now is the time to demonstrate exactly why Bruce saw fit to shell out 7.5 million pounds for his services six months ago.
Predicted finish: 14th
Matching last season will be difficult with a Europa League adventure on their hands, and the first priority remains survival in the Premier League. Supporters understand this and do not expect the club to run before it can walk in the top flight. Second-season syndrome doomed City in 2009-10, but this is a different animal entirely.
A tight-knit group working under Bruce is supported by financial security in the boardroom and that combination is not a boast some of their Premier League rivals can make as the new season looms. Continuity is king and City can enjoy another good season if major injury problems can be avoided.