Hull City at Birmingham: Steve Bruce wary of his old Blues
STEVE Bruce says his Hull City side must look beyond the Championship table if they are to ensure his return to Birmingham City is one to savour today.
After nine years as a player and manager in two spells at St Andrews, Bruce heads back to the Second City targeting a victory over his former employers to realign the Tigers' promotion hopes.
With the clouds of a protracted takeover process still hanging over the club and Birmingham struggling in 19th, the stage is favourably set for City to bounce back from last week's loss at Cardiff.
Wary of the Blues' improving form and wealth of talent, however, Bruce has warned his players only their best can grant his wish for three points.
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"I'm taking no notice of the league table because their team-sheet tells its own story," he said.
"There's Chris Burke and Wade Elliott out wide, Marlon King and Nikola Zigic up front, Hayden Mullins and Ravel Morrison in midfield, Jonathan Spector, Steven Caldwell and Jack Butland at the back, and make no mistake that's a very good team.
"No matter what's going on behind the scenes, they've got some very decent players. It's one defeat in six for them and there's definite signs that they're getting there under Lee Clark.
"We'll have to be at our best to get something and put in a performance that we're capable of."
City's climb up the Championship met resistance for the first time since last month when beaten 2-1 at Cardiff seven days ago.
The Tigers remain in fourth after a third of the season, but risk losing further ground on the automatic promotion places with anything less than a victory at St Andrews.
Flat performances at Leicester, Middlesbrough and Cardiff in three of the last five away games have cast doubt over the Tigers' credentials on their travels of late, and Bruce wants today to allay fears that City hide a vulnerable side.
"In football you can't play well all the time but the three away from home, where we haven't played to the standards we're capable of, are a bit of a concern," he added.
"They've all come when we've had three games in a week so that obviously tells you something.
"It's three games out of 16, though, and I have to say the three we've come unstuck against are big teams in this division.
"We've shown in the past that we can bounce straight back from those results and that's what we'll look to do at Birmingham."
A sub-plot from today will see Bruce take on counterpart Clark in a tactical battle of two graduates from the famed Wallsend Boys' Club in Newcastle.
Both have left Tyneside to manage Huddersfield and Birmingham during their first steps in management, and Bruce is full of admiration for the manager 11 years his junior.
"I've got an awful lot of time for Lee. We're cut from the same cloth," he said.
"He was harshly treated at Huddersfield and he'll want to make a fist of it at Birmingham."