After ten games Hull City have three fewer points than Manchester United yet their start to the season appears to have gone unheralded. Alex Dunn looks to redress the balance by questioning whether snobbery is preventing Steve Bruce and his players getting the praise they merit
Saturday 9 November 2013 08:45, UK
Alex Dunn wonders how Hull City have largely gone unheralded despite sitting in tenth place.Oxford, Cambridge, Hull. A punchline to an old Blackadder joke about England's great universities seems to have little relevance to the latter's Premier League credentials, but for a city beaten to the point of being emboldened by the jibes of outsiders it echoes what was said about a Steve Bruce team unilaterally written off before the proverbial ball had been kicked in anger. The question at the start of the season was not whether Hull City would be relegated but rather by how many points. Ten games in and Hull have three fewer points than Manchester United and have already played Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton away from home. It's a start that celebrates the transcendent potential of sport in all its glory and yet the platitudes afforded to Bruce and his team appear more transient, fleeting praise drafted in pencil not pen. Bruce is pragmatic enough not to be overly concerned about the failure of hardened hacks to effusively resurface predictions of a season akin to slow death in East Yorkshire, but it would be remiss not to at least attempt to redress the balance. Hull's favourite adopted son, the late great poet Philip Larkin, described the place he made his home for 30 years before his death as 'a working city, yet one neither clenched in the blackened grip of the industrial revolution nor hiding behind a cathedral to pretend it is York or Canterbury'. It's also an apt description of its football team. Bruce has moulded a side in his own image, one without pretence or illusions of grandeur. It's a side that presses and harries, has an incessant work ethic and is built on a back four that has conceded the sixth fewest goals in the league (10) and chalked up four clean sheets already. If Hull are tight at the back, they are positively miserly at the other end. Just eight league goals have remarkably earned them 14 points. In this respect they are an inverted Blackpool of a few seasons back. If you remember, Ian Holloway's cheery Seasiders were universally viewed as a 'breath of fresh air' before being relegated with a pat on the head as the Premier League's hegemonic order was restored with a collective sigh of relief. And yet it would be wrong to label Hull ugly and unapologetic; you don't make Tom Huddlestone your marquee signing if the plan is to go direct at every opportunity. Only five other clubs have played fewer long balls than Hull this season. "Steve Bruce has a lot of belief in me and hopefully I've implemented what he wants. I think we've shown we're not one of those newly-promoted teams who just lump it forward. We have good footballers who are all comfortable on the ball. Playing regularly is helping me find the rhythm and the sharpness you lose when you don't play every week," Huddlestone said recently. Any side that is more than the sum of its parts owes a nod to its manager and Bruce has proven quite the alchemist since joining Hull. Over the summer, he was allowed to bring in 11 new faces, five of which required fees to take his spending to around the £12.5million mark. Curtis Davies has been a revelation at the back, while the early promise shown by Sone Aluko suggests another astute acquisition. Huddlestone's capture at £5.2million was comfortably the highest fee paid, with Bruce having expressed his surprise at being able to sell a club he conceded were 'probably unfashionable' to a four-cap England international. He was probably even more surprised when he convinced Huddlestone's team-mate Jake Livermore - capped by Roy Hodgson just last season - to make the same move north. It's proven a fruitful midfield partnership, with Huddlestone's guileful straight-back playmaking complemented by Livermore's pugnacious promptings alongside him. Both are revelling in the knowledge they will be playing week in, week out and Bruce has tipped an England recall for Huddlestone: "It's scary how good he is. If there's a better passer of the ball ... I don't think there can be. He has great players ahead of him: the Gerrards and Lampards of this world and the Wilsheres. But there's no reason playing week in, week out and performing like he has been doing, why he can't." Bruce knows all about being unfashionable. Upon being sacked by Sunderland in November 2011 following a torrid end to the previous season and a slow start to the new one, Bruce spent 18 months licking his wounds and wondering if he was yesterday's man. Jobs at Norwich, West Brom and Aston Villa bypassed him without even a cursory call to ask of his potential availability. For a manager who sits eighth in the all-time list of matches clocked up as a Premier League boss and in his two full seasons at Sunderland achieved 13th and 10th-placed finishes respectively, it was quite the kick in the teeth.