Hull City 'will enjoy Championship run-in', says Steve Bruce
WITH the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League threatening to go down to the wire this season, Hull City boss Steve Bruce gathered his players to deliver an important message this week.
It needed no video analysis or tactical insight, that is part and parcel of every week on the training ground.
But having seen his side wrestle back second spot off Watford following a hard-fought 1-0 win at Burnley, Bruce turned his focus to his players' state of mind.
"I said to the players, we all might never be in this position again, hopefully we will, but you never know. We have given ourselves a great chance, so let's try and enjoy it."
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Unlike the majority of his squad, Bruce has been here before.
Twice he has handled the pressure of a promotion race to steer Birmingham City to the Premier League, firstly via the play-offs in 2002, and then automatically in 2007.
And he knows the key at this stage of the season is staying relaxed, refusing to panic, maintaining belief and most of all, playing with a smile on your face.
"It's pointless getting uptight at this time of the year because if you do, all the good work that has gone before can be wasted," Bruce added.
"The players won't start getting uptight while I am in charge
"I will make sure we try and enjoy it, that's what we are here for.
"It's worse at the bottom end of the league, then you can worry and you are always looking for change.
"At the top end you just keep it ticking along and keep them focused and enjoy the challenge ahead.
"The one thing we have done this season is enjoy the challenge of playing in the division, and we have played some good stuff all year.
"Why start trying to change now? Let's enjoy the run-in and let's hope we are good enough. Let's meet it head on. We are ready for it."
Meeting challenges head on is something Bruce's players have done in recent weeks.
Setbacks have come with a shocking start at Bolton ending with a 4-1 loss, whilst what Bruce admits was a 'below par' performance at Crystal Palace saw City on the end of a convincing 4-2 defeat.
Pleasingly, both losses brought brilliant responses in the Tigers changing room, as firstly they produced their best attacking display of the season to thump Birmingham 5-2 at the KC, before a performance centred around grit and determination brought that crucial win at Burnley on Monday.
Throughout it all, it has been Bruce who has brought a calmness to City's campaign.
It was his leadership which Stephen Quinn pointed to after the midfielder had fired the winner at Burnley on Monday, a victory which owed plenty to Bruce's team selection, and then his tactics during the game.
Tightening a defence which had conceded 10 goals in a week by employing his son Alex in a holding midfield role, in place of captain Robert Koren, Bruce amended the flaws of the previous two away games.
Then, when City needed to find an extra spark in attack, a double substitution of Koren and Jay Simpson brought immediate reward as they combined to tee-up the winner.
"We have gone 37 games and we are in a good position, so I don't think knee-jerk reactions help," said Bruce when asked about his changes at Burnley.
"Just because you lose one game badly, you don't have to make four or five changes to the side.
"If you haven't won for a month then you may think about it, but this division is what it is and we didn't play like we thought we would at Palace, and they were good on the night.
"After losing at Bolton we responded by beating Birmingham with five goals, and we responded to losing at Palace by winning at Burnley.
"It has been what we have done all season, hence why we have given ourselves a chance, and why we don't need to panic if we get beaten."
Heading into today's clash with Nottingham Forest at the KC Stadium, Bruce knows the danger of losing their grip on that second spot again is very real if City are not at their best.
But despite Forest being on a run of five straight wins under Billy Davies, as always, it is all about City getting their own performance right at the KC, where the Tigers go in search of a fifth straight home win.
"The one thing about the Championship, and it's the beauty of it, there's not a gulf," he said.
"There is always somebody who comes on a run. Bolton are coming with a run and certainly Forest are.
"That's why it is such a difficult division. There is a clear gulf in the Premier League between the top six and everybody else. You don't find that in the Championship. It is an even race. It's hard, tough, uncompromising and physically a big challenge, but we are enjoying it."