Hull City must prove their strength in tough festive fixtures, says Steve Bruce
STEVE Bruce has warned his high-flying Hull City side that the time of reckoning has now arrived in the Championship promotion race.
A promising start to the campaign has firmly established the Tigers as a leading contender under Bruce, with a 35-point haul enough to see them perched in fifth as the halfway mark nears.
A trip to in-form Watford today, where the sixth-placed Hornets will attempt to leapfrog their visitors, promises to provide another yardstick to measure progress. For Bruce, it signals the start of a gruelling run through the winter months.
The City boss believes the coming weeks have the ability to define the entire season and is urging his men not to take their foot off the pedal in their pursuit of promotion.
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"It's been a decent start but now comes the critical part for me," Bruce told the Mail.
"This is the nitty-gritty of your season. The winter months, December, January and February, is the time that sorts the men out from the boys.
"I hope that when the daffodils come up we're still in the top six and we're still in with a shout.
"If we stay injury-free then from what I've seen, there's nothing to fear.
"You need a bit of luck but I'm delighted with the way we're shaping up. We're making a good fist of it and at this time of the season, that's all you can ask for."
A 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest last weekend maintained an unbroken sequence of six weeks in the play-off places for the Tigers and ensured confidence was dealt a timely boost ahead of a demanding conclusion to 2012.
City's current form, with 22 points gathered from their last 11 games, has reaffirmed a growing belief that Bruce's first season can bring the top-six finish that eluded Nick Barmby's troops last term, and triggered talk of automatic promotion from captain Robert Koren.
Bruce played down such targets but takes heart from a fine run of results leading into today's game against play-off rivals Watford.
"It's something that's a long way off at this minute. If we're still in the same place come January or February, then you can perhaps start thinking about it," he said.
"It's got to be a target but we'll keep working hard and see where we are in a couple of months time. That's a long, long way off for now.
"The players deserve to be where they are, no question. You could argue that with a bit more luck we could have been even further up, but we're pleased."
Bruce today brings up six months in charge of the Tigers following his appointment as Barmby's successor in June.
Eleven wins from 20 games has made it a buoyant return to management, but asked what had given him most pleasure, he said: "I see little things about the team that show you we're all in this together.
"When we scored last weekend every player was in there celebrating.
"You've got to have a spirit. A manager tries to instil it but it's up to the players and staff to buy into it. I'm pleased to see it every day because they're a pleasure to be around."