THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Steve Bruce's Tigers travel to fellow promotion contenders Burnley this weekend

icon bruce5 February ~ It may smack of ingratitude, but even when at the top of the Championship with 18 games to go, having also made the FA Cup fifth round, embarked on a club record run to the last eight of the League Cup and acquired the best goal difference in English football, it has been rather difficult to become fully engaged with Hull City this season.

There are still rows with the club hierarchy following the owner's disappearance from view in the aftermath of the FA giving the elbow to his rotten name change idea, and those running the club for him continue to annoy the fans in his name by taking petty decisions without consultation. These include playing music after goals (this happened once; the subsequent outcry quickly forced the club's copy of Tiger Feet to be shoved back in the record rack) and tacking on needless admin fees whenever someone had the nerve to go to the KC to buy a ticket.

Yet the vindictiveness of the suits doesn't explain the palpable lack of excitement about the team. It feels harsh, but the apathy definitely exists. At their best, Steve Bruce's men have been superb to watch, but even this season has seen some truly dismal displays away from home, and the inconsistency of the Championship, a less optimistic way of saying that it's a proper close-run competition, has contributed as much as anything to the Tigers finding themselves a point clear of Middlesbrough going into this weekend's fixtures.

The trip to Burnley represents a lot to City fans. It will show whether Bruce's men can repeat recent good deeds in the Championship against a team with identical pretensions to return to the Premier League. The Tigers beat Burnley convincingly at the KC on Boxing Day and have won every game they've played in 2016, but hardier spirits lie in wait to try to stall the anticipated trip back to the top tier.

Burnley are hardier than most – third now in the table, albeit following a draw in midweek that they will see as a chance missed to close the gap further, they will have numerous asterisks next to Saturday's game on their fixture list. Their record against the Tigers at Turf Moor is notoriously good; City fans would label Burnley away as a fixture responsible for some of the most desperate displays in the club's recent history, including a Premier League defeat last season of the kind of acute wretchedness Aston Villa fans are currently familiar with.

A win for City, an isolated example of which they managed last time the two went after promotion in 2012-13, could be seen as an indication of things to come, given that Bruce's men have four more journeys to the current top eight – Ipswich, Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Derby – still to tackle. Now that Arsenal's name has been paired alongside City's in the FA Cup, again, it feels like the Championship will get 100 per cent of the focus, and that's no bad thing.

The Tigers have won just three divisional titles in 112 years – the Third Division of 1965-66, plus two Third Division Norths in 1933 and 1949 – but now are favourites to pick up the magnificent trophy for the Championship after a phenomenal run of form that began with a fortunate but decisive victory over QPR on New Years Day, and with nobody departing in January, the squad is in excellent shape to do it.

It's just that with some deplorable away defeats fresh in the memory this season – fans of Charlton, Leeds, Rotherham and Preston will grin at those memories, by comparison – there is a genuine fear that more are due, and Turf Moor has hosted its fair share of them in recent years. If City emerge unscathed from Lancashire this weekend, perhaps this manager and his team can be fully trusted again, and we can all learn to love each other properly. Matthew Rudd @MatthewJRudd

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