The international break probably came at a bad time for Hull City, but it was a good time for Steve Bruce. The Geordie boss lives in the moment more than most managers, and bizarrely seems to be drained by victories more than defeats, so he was ready for a few days in the Cotswolds after watching his team record five straight wins, scoring 12 goals without reply. Exhausting stuff.
Bruce’s nervous disposition when things are going swimmingly might be a tad eccentric but it’s a mixture of cause and effect because his attitude is arguably the main driving force behind the consistency his teams generate at this level. When it comes to keeping players focused and guarding them against complacency, there’s probably nobody better.
The big question now is whether the interruption upsets the Tigers’ rhythm. So good was their form prior to the break, the early 6/4 quotes on them winning this game would, on the back of a normal seven-day turnaround, have been the standout bet of the Championship season - and probably still is. The good news is that long-distance travellers Mo Diame and Abel Hernandez return unscathed having not kicked a ball for either Senegal or Uruguay.
With that in mind, we should be bold about the leaders cementing their position at the summit 24 hours before third-placed Burnley do battle with second-placed Brighton. Feel free to lump on the standard 90-minute price if you wish. However, if Hull pick up where they left off, there’s a trio of bigger-priced outcomes that all reflect the emphatic manner in which they are capable of getting the job done.
The Hull ‘win to nil’ wager at 14/5 and Hull -1 on the handicap at 9/2 have both landed in each of the last five encounters, a lost of casualties that includes Ipswich, Birmingham, Brentford and Middlesbrough, all of whom are better than Bristol City. The Hull/Hull half-time/full-time bet, meanwhile, chalked-up at 3/1 here, has copped in four out of five.
Steve Cotterill’s men can be delighted with their progress since the October break. The Robins have picked up eight points from the last six matches, keeping four clean sheets and providing ample evidence that a fairly inexperienced group has more than enough to survive at this level. But there was little evidence in that burst of results to suggest they can suddenly stand toe-to-toe with the big hitters.
As ever, the first goal will be crucial in dictating the pattern here and first-half setbacks for Bristol in previous home games against Leeds (0-1), Burnley (0-2), Reading (0-2) and Fulham (0-4) should give the visitors with enough encouragement to go out and seize the initiative from the first whistle. If the Tigers get their noses in front early, this could turn into a stroll - not that it would stop Bruce from sweating cobs on the touchline.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.