Bruce braced for nervy finish
3:43pm Wednesday 12th February 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Hull manager Steve Bruce believes the battle to stay in the Barclays Premier League may not be resolved until the last day of the season.
Victory for the Tigers against Southampton on Tuesday night would have taken them 10th, while their eventual 1-0 defeat meant they ended the night just three points above the relegation zone.
With so many sides bunched so tightly together, unpredictable results now a weekly occurrence and half of the division treating relegation as a realistic possibility, Bruce is not alone in looking over his shoulder.
And he does not expect the tension to ease any time soon.
"There's 12 games to go and it looks like it's going to be like this from now until the end of the season," said Bruce.
"The bottom half of the division is ridiculous. A team will win then draw then lose and it will go on like that until the last game of the season, I'd have thought.
"You can throw a blanket over 10 or 11 teams now, it's so tight. Usually one or two teams are cut adrift at this stage in February but that's not the case.
"It's one of those seasons, so we have to dust ourselves down and go again."
Hull take a break from league duties on Monday night when they travel to Brighton in the fifth round of the FA Cup, with veteran goalkeeper Steve Harper hoping for one more chance to stake his claim.
The former Newcastle stalwart has impressed when standing in for Allan McGregor this term, often in the cup competitions but also during the Scot's three-game suspension which expired after the Southampton game.
McGregor is likely to retain Bruce's faith, but Harper has at least made it a tough call.
"I haven't really thought about that decision yet, but I thought Harper was excellent against Southampton," Bruce said. "He's been terrific for us and pulled off a couple of great saves.
"The one that went in was probably the scrappiest of the lot, through someone's legs, and he really deserved a clean sheet because he was our outstanding player on the night."
Southampton's match-winner on a night where Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodrguez all impressed without finding the net, was centre-half Jose Fonte.
The Portuguese converted at the second attempt after Harper had repelled an initial header, with goalline technology on hand to confirm his shot had crossed.
With Saints well clear of the relegation mire but unlikely to push for Europe, Fonte is now eyeing his side's own FA Cup clash at Sunderland on Saturday.
"We want a run in the FA Cup because it is very special for us," he told Saints Player.
"We're going to focus on that and try to win the game. We haven't beaten Sunderland yet, but hopefully we will do this Saturday.
"It would mean a lot. We're in a good situation with the league and we want to finish as high up as possible, but we want to win every game and the FA Cup is something we are looking forward to.
"It would be a dream to go to Wembley again, and win."