Leonid Slutsky takes charge of his first competitive Hull City match tomorrow evening when he takes his side to Villa Park to face former City manager Steve Bruce in front of the Sky TV Cameras. It’s all set up perfectly, two of the biggest clubs in the Championship going head to head on the opening day with Slutsky pitting his wits against one of City’s most successful managers who is looking to take the now sleeping giant Villa back to the Premier League. You can see why Sky picked the game to show live and it should be an intriguing contest.
The new season should be filling City fans with excitement at the prospect of challenging for promotion back to the Premier League, unfortunately though this is Hull City. It’s been another extremely turbulent summer. Several of last season’s players have departed for pastures new and there have been few new players coming the other way to replace them.
Ahmed Elmohamady, Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies, Eldin Jakupovic, Harry Maguire, Andrew Robertson, Harvey Rodgers and Josh Tymon have all left the club leaving Slutsky’s squad looking threadbare at best and without a recognised left back. Kevin Stewart, Ondrej Mazuch, Liam Edwards, Ola Aina, and Michael Hector have all signed and they look promising but will have to prove themselves in one of the toughest leagues in the world.
Another new arrival is a familiar face to all City fans. Fraizer Campbell has returned to the club after leaving Crystal Palace on a free transfer. He went from Wembley hero to mercenary villain in City fans eyes after being part of the promotion winning side in 2008 before snubbing the club for more money in 2013 when he joined Cardiff City instead of Bruce’s City side. Now he is back and will have a point to prove. If he can rediscover in 2007/2008 form he will be an absolute gem of a signing!
Both managers have had their say ahead of the game with Slutsky looking forward to his biggest challenge yet as a manager, “Yes, this is my hardest job, but only because it’s English”, He alluded to the gruelling nature of the Championship which differs to what he is used to in Russia “It’s a very hard tournament,” said Slutsky. “It starts in August and finishes in May, a serious competition with 46 matches plus cup matches”.
He clearly knows he has a task on his hands with such a thin squad but he also wants that not to be an excuse going into tomorrow’s game, “We must be ready, It’s not a question of whether or not we are ready, we must be ready. We know our fixtures and the first match is 5 August. We have a squad and I believe we are ready”.
Steve Bruce meanwhile is looking forward to a reunion with his former employers and said he could see this fixture coming, “It had to be didn’t it?, Live on the telly and the first game of the season, it had to be Hull. When I was sitting abroad and it came out, I thought, wow, it just had to be them”.
Bruce has fond memories of his time at City and he wants to be just as successful at Villa, ““I was disappointed but I had four great years there. To be at Wembley every other year was great, we had a couple of promotions and a cup final. If I could replicate it here we’d all be delighted.”
He also knows City won’t be lacking motivation ahead of the game, “They’ve still got some good players so we are in for a tough game. I can guarantee that. The one thing they’ll want to do is turn me over so we have to be ready for that”
Several new faces are expected to make their debuts for City tomorrow including Kevin Stewart, Michael Hector, Ola Aina and Ondrej Mazuch and Fraizer Campbell should also be involved. The only players definitely ruled out of Slutsky’s squad are Ryan Mason, David Marshall, Moses Odubajo and Will Keane.
Steve Bruce is not the only familiar face City will come up against at Villa Park. James Chester will probably play while Ahmed Elmohamady should make his debut after leaving City’s training camp and signing for Villa a few weeks ago. Jack Grealish is out for three months after undergoing Kidney surgery while Ross McCormack looks to be heading out on loan so won’t play.