Paul McShane first on Hull City team-sheet, thanks to Steve Bruce's trust-building exercise
PAUL McShane's flawless return to the Hull City side will ensure he is the first name on the team-sheet at Middlesbrough tonight, according to manager Steve Bruce.
Although McShane began the season playing understudy to regular starters James Chester, Abdoulaye Faye and Alex Bruce, a catalogue of injuries paved the way for his big break three weeks ago.
The Republic of Ireland defender has responded in fine style and three consecutive appearances against Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich have put him among City's outstanding performers.
Such form was enough to limit Chester to a place on the bench on his return from a hamstring injury at the weekend and even with Alex Bruce back in the squad, McShane has been assured of another lead role.
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"I'm delighted for all the lads who have grasped their chances and, for the last three games, Paul has been very, very good," Bruce told the Mail.
"He'll definitely play at Middlesbrough, that's for sure.
"In the last three games he's done absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, in two of those games he's been close to being my man of the match."
A fourth consecutive start tonight would be McShane's longest unbroken sequence for the Tigers since October 2010 and continues the latest rebirth within the City squad.
Much like Jay Simpson and Seyi Olofinjana, who have come in from the cold during Bruce's short tenure, McShane has enthusiastically grasped the lifeline offered after making just two league starts in the previous 20 months with the club.
"We had a chat at the start of the season, like I did with all the players, and I told him to forget all about the past," explained Bruce.
"To be fair, he turned around to me and said he'd heard all of that before!
"He was straight to the point and said he'd trusted a good few managers before and it hadn't worked out.
"I told him it was about building up a bit of trust because it hasn't been easy for him since he came here.
"The message was to stick at it and the rewards will come, and that's what's also happened for the likes of Simpson and Olofinjana."
If McShane is guaranteed to be one of Bruce's centre-backs at Middlesbrough, the City boss may choose to rest veteran Abdoulaye Faye with one eye on Saturday's trip to Bristol City.
Chester, rather than Alex Bruce, would be most likely to return after suffering no reaction when playing the final 20 minutes of Saturday's 2-1 win over Ipswich.
Bruce is also expected to shake up his attack, with the weekend match-winner Nick Proschwitz prominent in his thoughts.
"I'll look at it because we'll have to go again on Saturday," said Bruce.
"That's what the squad's for, you need one.
"If you can't keep them happy as a manager then you come in for some trouble, but I feel as though the players understand the importance of this being a squad game."
City will hunt a third consecutive win when they travel to Teesside as seventh place plays host to sixth.
Tony Mowbray's side hold an identical record to the Tigers from the opening 11 Championship games and are buoyed by back-to-back victories.
Tonight's game marks a return to his former club for City's assistant manager Steve Agnew just four months after leaving the Riverside, and that inside information has told Bruce what to expect.
"They've got an identical record to us this season and they're a very good footballing side," he said.
"It's a typical Tony Mowbray side, they try and play right the way.
"If we play the way we know we can, we know we've got a chance of getting something."
City have won just one of their last 19 games on Teesside, but Bruce intends to end a 26-year wait with a win.
He added: "To get out of the division you have to win 20 odd games and that's what we're trying to do. It's important to go and look to win."