Two years after Steve Bruce was appointed Hull City manager, the club’s fortunes appear to have reached a juncture. Hull has managed to extend its Premiership stay another year. The club reached the FA Cup final last year, falling to Arsenal 3-2 in extra time after ceding an early 2-0 lead. Due to Arsenal’s place in the Champions League, the Tigers earned a spot in the Europa League this season, the club’s debut venture in Europe.
In April, in perhaps the best news of all for supporters, the FA Council turned down owner Assem Allam’s request to change the club’s name to Hull Tigers. Yet despite recent momentum, Hull’s place in England’s top flight certainly isn’t guaranteed: The club finished 16th in last season’s final table after slipping late in the campaign.
MORE: Hull City's season schedule
Hull isn’t a favorite for relegation. But reading too much into the club’s first foray into Europe might create unrealistic expectations; if anything, while Hull supporters might relish a Thursday match in far-flung continental destinations like Ukraine, the extra demand on the squad will make Premiership success more difficult to come by.
The Tigers only scored 38 goals last Premier League campaign, fourth-worst in the Premier League. Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long -- both acquired last season -- led the team in scoring, but only netted four goals apiece. With Long on his way to Southampton, Hull’s fortune may rest with players like Curtis Davies and midfielder Tom Huddlestone if goals are hard to come by.
Davies, who plays next to the reliable James Chester, was particularly strong defensively last season, averaging 4.6 aerial duels won per game, fourth-best in the Premiership. Purchased from Tottenham before last season, Huddlestone and his (relatively) recently trimmed hair gives the Tigers a creative edge in the midfield.
Steve Bruce has been rightfully praised for his managerial job since his 2012 appointment at Hull. But a significant leap up the Premier League table amid a Europa League campaign would be a monumental achievement, even considering his squad’s improvement.
English Premier League: 2014 newcomers
SI's Grant Wahl takes a look at some new faces in the English Premier League.
KEY ARRIVALS: MF Jake Livermore (from Tottenham), MF Robert Snodgrass (from Norwich City), MF Tom Ince (from Sheffield United), D Harry Maguire (from Sheffield United), D Andrew Robertson (from Dundee United)
KEY DEPARTURES: F Shane Long (to Southampton), F Matty Fryatt (to Nottingham Forest), D Abdoulaye Faye (released), MF Robert Koren (released)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nikica Jelavic was acquired by Hull City last season to boost the Tigers’ lackluster offense, but the Croatian striker failed to consistently find the back of the net. After scoring a total of 16 the previous two Premier League campaigns for Everton, Jelavic only managed four with the Tigers in league play.
This year, Jelavic’s responsibility will be even greater with the departure of Shane Long to Southampton. Tom Huddlestone’s creativity and Ahmed Elmohamady’s pace can put Jelavic in position to score. For Hull City’s offensive capability to progress, Jelavic must rediscover his form and finishing ability from his Everton tenure. Four goals simply won’t be enough.
KEY STAT: Despite finishing 16th, Hull City hovered around the middle of the table throughout much of the season. As late as April, Hull was in 12th place. But the club, focused on the final stages of the FA Cup, only collected one point in its final five matches. A similar Europa League or FA Cup distraction this year could prove to be more costly, especially if the club is desperate come May. Points won’t be easy to obtain for Hull in the final month of play: Three of the Tigers’ last four opponents are Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United.
STADIUM: The KC Stadium (Built in 2002; Capacity 25,400)
The single-tier, asymmetrical bowl features a second tier only on the west side. External columns give the venue Hull City color and character.