Why resurrection man Jay Simpson finally feels part of the Hull City team
THE sight of Jay Simpson smiling at Hull City's Cottingham training ground was once a collectors' item.
Two "wasted" years with the Tigers had taken a heavy toll on the 23-year-old and, by the end of last season, even the prospect of heading into work filled him with dread.
Not anymore. A fresh start under Steve Bruce has cast Simpson in the role of City's resurrection man.
Where once he found deflation at every turn, the likeable young striker now sees optimism unbound.
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If this is Simpson's dawn, his darkest hours were to be found in the closing months of last season.
With Nick Barmby placing his unwavering faith in others, the Londoner enjoyed a sum total of 37 minutes during just two substitute appearances in 2012.
Try as he might, there was no way in to the manager's plans.
A new season has restored all hope under Bruce but memories of last season instill an appreciation of every opportunity.
"People might find it hard to believe but there were times when I didn't want to come to training," Simpson said, ahead of a reunion with former club Millwall this afternoon.
"You come in and train every day and when you don't even get a look in, it's very hard. I just had to do it for myself and prove I could keep going.
"It's been a very difficult two years here. For me it's felt as though two years have been pretty much wasted.
"I wanted to come here and kick on but that was very difficult when, regardless of how you're performing, you don't get a chance.
"But it's been like a new start since the new manager's come in. I'm refreshed again."
Simpson credits Bruce with nurturing a belief seldom demonstrated by his managerial predecessors Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby, and the results have so far been emphatic.
After emerging off the bench to rescue an opening day win over Brighton, the former Arsenal rookie showed further promise in trips to Blackburn and Charlton.
A first start of the season duly brought a goal in the League Cup exit at Doncaster Rovers and earned Simpson a second bite of the cherry against Bolton last time out. While a third goal of the season was chalked off, the youngster earned the praise of Bruce and a rapturous ovation of supporters as he led from the front in City's 3-1 win.
It wholeheartedly justified Bruce's decision to axe £2.6m signing Nick Proschwitz and, for Simpson, underlined his manager's values.
"He's come in and given me the belief that if I do well in training I'll always get my chance," he said.
"When he first came he said that it was a clean slate for everyone and that everyone would get their chance.
"He signed Nick (Proschwitz) and maybe he was under pressure to play him, I don't know, but it shows that he's been true to his word.
"That's pleasing for me to see that belief. He's a manager with a great CV and at a very good level.
"When a new manager comes in you want to believe what they're saying to you but sometimes you hear the words and don't see the action. That makes it very difficult to keep going.
"The manager has stuck to his word, though, and I can't knock him for it."
Bruce has judged Simpson purely on his merits, rather than his City past, but even the statistics of a two-year stay in East Yorkshire demand a slice of respect.
While Matty Fryatt's 25 goals for the Tigers have come at an average of one every 234 minutes since his arrival from Leicester in January 2011, Simpson's more conservative return of eight has been at a rate of one every 286 minutes. Only seven of Simpson's 44 City appearances have allowed him to play the full fixture.
Simpson is not alone in benefiting from a change in management.
Joe Dudgeon earned just one league start in the final four months of 2012, while Seyi Olofinjana enjoyed just one all season. Both now find themselves in a prominent position alongside Simpson.
"The new manager has come in and made some great signings but also rejuvenated some of the lads here who were in the shadows," he said.
"I feel like I'm one of them for sure.
"Olly is a good friend of mine and I would feel bad for him at times last year but we helped each other through our bad patches.
"I had a lot of good people around me last year. I don't think there was anyone who believed in me more than Liam Rosenior. I always had him to speak to.
"Every player has a period where you're not playing and things aren't going how you want them to but he's very good at keeping your spirits up. It's good to have your team-mates on your side."
The roles have been reversed with Rosenior now out of the side but both players will soon have to mull over their next moves.
The two friends are due to see contracts expire at the end of the season and, as yet, talks over new deals are yet to begin.
"The end of the season is a long way away and I'll just take it as each day comes," Simpson added. "Staying in the team will be the hardest job and I'm only concentrating on scoring as many goals as I can."
Today brings a reunion with Millwall, the club he joined on loan when surplus to requirements at the KC Stadium 12 months ago.
Four months at the New Den under Kenny Jackett gave Simpson respite from his City misery when farmed out by Nigel Pearson last August and he knows what to expect.
"It's going to be a really good game," he said. "Their supporters are a lively bunch and having got to know a lot of the lads and the management last year, I know they're a decent side.
"Millwall have a tradition, the club as a whole, to be difficult to play against. They're always in your face and never pull out of a tackle. It's been that way for years in the way they play. I know the manager is trying to bring more football into the side but they never lie down."