Sunderland 0 Hull 2
He may, according to Sunderland supporters, be nothing more than a fat Geordie bastard.
But Steve Bruce is a fat Geordie bastard who led the club to the kind of solid Premier League finishes they can only dream of at present.
The Hull manager is still waiting to receive the credit he feels he deserves for his achievements on Wearside. It may be some time before his wish is granted. Given a predictably hostile welcome from the stands on his first return, Bruce was in charge at the Stadium of Light long enough to appreciate the DNA of a club where it seems every silver lining is swiftly followed by a cumulusnimbus.
So it proved, as the upward mobility under Gus Poyet was brought to a halt by a Hull side that relishes playing in the north-east.
As sweet as victory must have been, Bruce played down talk of revenge against former employers who sacked him in 2011, despite having guided them to consecutive 13th and 10th-place finishes during his two full seasons in charge. That’s nosebleed territory for a club accustomed to flitting between English football’s top two divisions for longer than they care to recall.
They retain hope of extending their seven-season status in the Premier League thanks to the strides made under their South American head coach. But after clinching a place in the Capital One Cup final, in addition to a comprehensive derby victory at Newcastle, Bruce was proved correct in feeling that just round the corner, the wheels were ready to come off.
“Sunderland came into this game flying,” he insisted. “What they’ve done in the last few weeks is remarkable, because they looked to be gone. But in my experience here, there is always something around the corner. Ok, they win the derby 3-0, and get to a cup final. What’s going to happen next? Is that typical Sunderland? Is that the history of Sunderland? Can I say that?
“People can have a look at what we did and in a few years time, they might think we didn’t do too badly.” Written-off in some quarters as a strictly old-school footballing dinosaur, Bruce has his fair share of detractors.
To those who’ve worked closely with the 53-year-old, it’s an unfair portrayal. “He’s far from being a caricature old-school manager,” Steve Harper insisted.
Victory was sweeter for the former Newcastle goalkeeper than most, and he added: “In my first 10 games here we played three different formations, and the manager’s changed formations during games, at half-time and for me he has real flexibility.”
A victory sealed by smart close-range headers either side of half-time from the expensively assembled new front pairing of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic was Hull’s first on the road in the league since winning at Newcastle in September. They deposited Middlesbrough out of the FA Cup at the Riverside last month, and Harper added: “We seem to like this part of the world. Sadly that’s the end of the north-east away games for now.”
Both goalscorers also struck the woodwork, which, coupled with a fine display from Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone, prevented the visitors from providing a significant boost to their goal difference, a factor which could prove crucial in deciding the eventual bottom three, as could the six points Hull have taken off Sunderland this season.
Once Wes Brown received an early red card, Sunderland’s fifth of the campaign and a third against these opponents, for an foul on Long, the outcome was never in doubt. Sent off for a second time this season, Brown receives a two-match suspension, not the initially feared four which would have ruled the defender out of the Capital One Cup final against Manchester City.
“The amount of red cards does not bother me,” insisted Poyet, when asked about his side’s damaging ill-discipline. He added: “It doesn’t mean we’re a dirty team.”
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Mannone 7, Bardsley 4, O’Shea 3, Brown 3, Alonso 4; Bridcutt 6 (Wickham 75, 4); Johnson 5, Ki 4 (Gardner 70, 5), Colback 5, Borini 6 (Vergini 12, 4); Altidore 4.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Harper 8, Rosenior 8 (Koren 46, 7), Davies 8, McShane 7, Figueroa 8, Elmohamady 8, Huddlestone 8, Livermore 8, Meyler 8, Long 9 (Brady 88, 5), Jelavic 7 (Aluko 78, 7).
Referee: Mike Jones 7
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