Good omens at KC

Posted by Philip Buckingham

Antonio Luna battles with Sone Aluko during Aston Villa's Premier League game against Hull.PA PhotosAntonio Luna battles with Sone Aluko during Aston Villa's Premier League game against Hull.

Wisened by 15 years and over 600 games in management, Steve Bruce is routinely the first to preach caution to the Hull City masses.

He was at it again, this time following a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa on Saturday, reminding the over-excitable there was another 31 games to navigate before a survival mission could be declared a success.

If the opening two months of the campaign have taught Bruce anything new, however, it is that his side have more than just a fighting chance of avoiding an instant return to the Championship.

- Hughes: A hard-Earned point at Hull

An 11th point of the season, gathered from a fixture unlikely to live long in the memory, made it four games unbeaten and kept City eighth in the Premier League. Only Chelsea and Manchester City have so far inflicted defeats to blot the Tigers' copy-book and no side has yet managed to escape East Yorkshire with a win; hardly the green form of a Premier League freshman.

Although the weekend stalemate with Aston Villa produced a performance Bruce labelled "bang average," he remained content. Even when falling below their recent best, it was worthy of a point. That alone ought to be heartening enough.

Villa became the latest member of the Premier League establishment to learn the Tigers are no soft touch. Seven days on from conquering Manchester City, Paul Lambert's side found a tougher nut to crack at the KC Stadium.

While both of these in-form teams stuck to footballing principles, showing flashes of their ability and comfort in possession, there was an emphatic dearth of incident to warrant them a third-straight win. Much like a series of jokes without the punch-lines.

The two sides knew too much about one another. Villa's tactic of swamping Sone Aluko quelled City's greatest attacking danger. The home side, meanwhile, countered the counter of their guests by holding a deep defensive line. The outcome was a quiet afternoon for both goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Brad Guzan.

That Curtis Davies and Ciaran Clark, two opposing central defenders, were the individuals singled out for post-match praise by Bruce and Lambert told its own story of defences reigning supreme.

Again it was City's back four that impressed. A third clean-sheet of the season means only Cardiff's Peter Whittingham has scored for a visiting side in six hours of Premier League football at the KC. Davies, meeting his former club for the first time since leaving to join Birmingham City, was outstanding alongside veteran Abdoulaye Faye. Full-backs Liam Rosenior and Maynor Figueroa also earned commendations in a unit as tight as a drum.

At the other end, the outlook is less convincing. City are still not scoring enough goals. Subtract the brilliant 3-2 away win at Newcastle United and the Tigers have mustered three goals from six games. Two of those were from Robbie Brady penalties and the other from the head of Davies.

Tellingly, it leaves Danny Graham still searching for his first goal since January.

For all Bruce's public shows of support (and there have been plenty) standing by a centre-forward without a goal in 24 league and cup games grows harder by the week. There is much to admire in Graham's industry and hold-up play, enough to buy him time, but there is only so long a striker can bear such a cross before buckling. A half-chance against Villa, latching on to a cross from the right, lacked the necessary conviction under pressure from Ron Vlaar.

Bruce must weigh up when to curtail Graham's opportunities. An eager Yannick Sagbo is desperate for a shot at redemption following his red card against Norwich on his home debut, while Egyptian international Gedo will be close to match fitness by the time Everton away rolls around on October 19.

That will begin a demanding conclusion to the month, with a league and Capital One Cup double-header at Tottenham following the trip to Goodison Park.

Confidence will be high for the three away games that precede an inviting home game with Sunderland in four weeks and Bruce is desperate to keep his players' feet on the ground. It was in the late autumn months of 2008 that the prospect of qualifying for Europe was famously first touted by former chairman Paul Duffen. Pride before a fall and all that.

A bigger picture has been hung at the KC Stadium this time around but Bruce can at least enjoy this second international break with peace of mind. So far, so good.


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