Friday 23 February 2018

Bruce: Europa berth will be a double-edged sword

Hull City's English manager Steve Bruce
Hull City's English manager Steve Bruce

Rory Dollard

Steve Bruce believes qualification for the Europa League can be both a blessing and a curse for clubs like Hull. Bruce's Tigers will make their European bow regardless of what happens in their FA Cup final against Arsenal, courtesy of the Gunners' top-four placing.

Yet the result remains vitally important to their European prospects, with victory carrying them directly to the group stages and defeat condemning them to the early qualifying rounds. And while it represents an astounding achievement for a side whose over-riding ambition for the season was to simply avoid relegation, it can also be something of a double-edged sword.

Newcastle, Stoke and Bolton are among those who have struggled to balance the demands of the competition alongside those of the Premier League, while Swansea's domestic form this term has been a shadow of the 2012/'13 vintage.

Bruce has no intention of dampening fan enthusiasm for the adventure ahead but is under no illusion about how difficult it will be to manage. "We're in Europe, which is fantastic. I'm sure the fans are looking forward to it," said Bruce, whose side host Everton today in their last Premier League match of the season.

"We have to look at it that way and then we have to realise, when we start planning, that the ramifications of it are huge. There's a huge complication with Europe. However, let's not derail it before we get into it; when the draw comes out in mid-July then to see our name in amongst it will be fantastic.

"That's when it will grab hold of people. We're in with the Tottenhams and Evertons from our country and some big clubs from others."

Bruce has made no secret of the fact that he feels certain players have taken their eyes off the ball in the league since securing their place at Wembley.

Indeed, Hull have gathered only one point from a possible 12 since seeing off semi-final opponents Sheffield United on April 12, and that was against relegated Fulham.

The requirements of continental competition are even more demanding and, with Hull heading into the final round of fixtures just four points above the bottom three, there is no real buffer zone to absorb many Europa League hangovers.

"The reason we've tailed off recently is the FA Cup and when you're going to be playing Saturday, Thursday, Sunday, it is very difficult," Bruce said. "You know what it's like if you go on holiday: airports, late flights, getting back in the middle of the night. . . it's never easy.

"We understand how difficult it is but we can't be frightened of it. Some clubs have done extremely well, but if you're one of the smaller teams in Europe and you get a bigger team, they have a huge advantage."

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