After 37 games, Hull City’s Premier League future comes down to a must-win fixture against an opponent that manager Steve Bruce has yet to conquer in 17 years of management. Bruce captained Manchester United to the championship in three of the first four seasons of the Premier League, but since going into management has yet to taste victory against his former club in 20 attempts. It has long been a gibe directed in the former center-back’s direction that his teams roll over up against the mighty United. The 16 defeats for his teams are hardly convincing evidence for the defense. Yet at the KC Stadium on Sunday there can be no room for Hull quietly accepting their fate. If they fail to end Bruce’s barren run, Hull will be playing in the Championship next season.
“We’re certainly up against it, there’s no underestimating that, but we’ve still got a chance and we’ve got to believe we’ve got a chance,” Bruce said in his pre-match press conference. “First of all we’ve got to try and beat Manchester United, which is never easy. But as we’ve seen the past couple of weeks there have been some strange results, and let’s hope that we can pull it off and get a favor from elsewhere.”
Hull go into the last day of the Premier League season in the final relegation spot, two points behind Newcastle United, although with a superior goal difference. It means Hull need to win and hope that Newcastle fail to beat West Ham United in order to stay afloat.
That Hull find themselves in such a perilous position must surely be seen as a significant failure in itself. After surviving their first season back in the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final last year, the goal was to kick on and become an established force in England’s top division. An investment of more than £40 million in new signings last summer showed the ambition, yet none of those players brought in were in the starting lineup as Hull went down 2-0 to Tottenham last week.
“We never wanted to be in this situation,” Bruce said. “We were all realistic enough to thin it was going to be tough, of course we did. We didn’t expect to be in this position, but we are. We’ve got a chance, let’s hope there’s one final twist and it can go our way because not a lot has gone out way over the last few months one way or another.”
The good news for Bruce is that Manchester United realistically have nothing to play for in their final fixture. Unlike Hull, United have already achieved their main ambition this season, in securing a return to the Champions League. They look set to have to go through a playoff to get to the group phase, however, with Arsenal three points clear and with a superior goal difference by seven. Manager Louis van Gaal, insists, though, that United will be going all out for a victory.
“We have the same approach as ever,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “We have to give our utmost best. We have to do that for the honesty of the league. I have to play my strongest team.”
That team is set to include captain Wayne Rooney, after the forward recovered from a dead leg that kept him out of United’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal. And it could also feature David de Gea. United’s first-choice goalkeeper was forced off with a hamstring injury last week and has also been the subject of intense speculation about a transfer to Real Madrid. Yet Van Gaal was insistent that not only does he want him to play against Hull but that he is confident he will still be at Old Trafford next season.
“I believe still that David de Gea shall stay,” he said. “He has trained today but only with our goalkeeper trainer. He still has a little problem so I want to wait a day longer because I want him to play against Hull City.
“You know that I shall talk with them maybe tomorrow, we'll have a farewell drink. After the match, I have the Monday to talk, I have spoken to some players this week. You have to wait and see how these talks develop in terms of players staying or going away.”
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBC
Live stream info: NBC Sports Live Extra