Hull are dangerously close to the drop. Only two points above the relegation zone, they are in real peril, along with the other teams around them.
In some ways they’re in a slightly better position than the others, though, but only because their goal difference is so much better than those directly above and below them.
Steve Bruce will be the one charged with keeping them up, though perhaps that wasn’t exactly what we were expecting from Hull this season. It’s probably a case of obscenely high expectations to suggest that Hull should’ve been competing for Europe or something like that. That’s not really what I mean. But last season’s FA Cup finalists were impressive up until the end of the campaign when they lost their momentum in the league so they could focus on their cup run.
I don’t mean to slate Hull, but they haven’t kicked on from last term. Managers have to manage expectations along with everything else, and so this year has been as disappointing for Hull as last season was impressive.
I say it was impressive not only because they came so close to winning the cup, 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, but also because they had the wherewithal to do that. Alan Pardew was criticised heavily last season for not doing the same thing – the Geordies were well clear of the relegation zone but too far off the European places to do any real damage, then instead of having a go in the cup, they fielded a weakened team and went out in the third round.
This is the life of a Premier League manager, and no one typifies this more than Steve Bruce – if there was ever a man in need of a few weeks on the beach, it’s him!
He was up so very high last season only to be brought down so very low, losing out on silverware in extra time. Then, he seemed to strengthen well in the summer, spending money on consolidating what he had with Huddlestone and Livermore, and then adding flair to his already-solid team with the addition of Abel Hernandez, Gaston Ramirez and Hatem Ben Arfa. But what an unfortunate loan deal Ben Arfa turned out to be.
The signings haven’t worked out and Hull are paying the price for that. It’s not Bruce’s fault, per se. It’s always a gamble to break your record transfer fee, as he did for Hernandez, and it’s always a gamble to turn to Ben Arfa in any circumstance. But they did still seem like shrewd signings in the summer – or at least, they did to me in August/September time.
It looks like Hull can expect drama right to the end of this campaign. Last time they had drama in the Cup final, and the season before that was probably the most torturous day of footballing history, at least for Hull and Watford fans. Steve Bruce just can’t get a break from drama.
When Bruce managed to get Hull promoted, it was on a rip roaring final day of Championship football, yet absolutely heart-destroying for Hull and Watford fans: Hull drew with Cardiff, and Watford lost to Leeds sending Hull to the Premier League. But that’s not the whole story. Hull’s match had eight minutes of stoppage time – eight agonising minutes to try and hold onto the draw that eventually sent them up. But once their match was over, they still had 16 minutes to wait for the Watford game to finish, knowing that a Watford win would send the Hornets through and not them.
So the Hull manager can be forgiven for thinking that the pressure, the torment, of Premier League management is not as bad as it’s cracked up to be – he’s had worse.
Yet Bruce doesn’t look like a man who was perhaps the best Premier League defender of his day. He looks more like an 80s crooner, who has spent the last 30 years blowing his money on fast-food and nights in sleazy nightclubs. His heart could really do without this relegation battle.
But then, he’s no worse-off than any other Premier League manager. The stress is unreal, but it’s completely part and parcel of the job.
The ups and downs of football management are becoming more and more extreme as the money becomes more and more extreme. Never has it been more crucial to a club to stay in the top division as it is now. Managers need a break, before the stress takes its toll.
Bruce could be doing with a trip to the seaside, but this weekend’s trip to Southampton isn’t really what he had in mind. Still, going back home to Yorkshire with three points for a souvenir would lift the stress levels somewhat – that’s the kind of day at the beach the doctor ordered.