LONDON: Hull are favourites to join Burnley and Queens Park Rangers down in the second division next season after a penultimate round of matches which also left north-eastern rivals Newcastle and Sunderland uncertain of their fate.
The crucial difference is the last week’s fixtures schedule. Sunderland, ideally, need one point from tough visits to Arsenal on Wednesday and celebrating new champions Chelsea next Sunday. Newcastle need to beat West Ham next weekend.
Both Sunderland and Newcastle can still hope that, if they lose all of those games, they will still stay up as long as Hull do not win away to Manchester United in the last-day shootout.
United are sure of a place in the Champions League play-off round but manager Louis Van Gaal will demand that his players end their redevelopment season on a positive, winning note, in front of their own fans.
Worse for Hull, they have never beaten United in seven league attempts, have never won a Premier match in May and Bruce has never beaten his old club in 17 matches as a manager.
Hull were pushed towards a return to the second division from which they ‘escaped’ in 2013 by a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham. For manager Steve Bruce it was the worst possible end to what he described as the worst weekend of his managerial life. Hull’s preparation had been scarred by the revelation that ex-Spurs midfielder Jake Livermore had failed a dope test for cocaine.
Players who test positive on match days for illegal social drugs, as opposed to performance-enhancing drugs, can face up to a two-year ban under FA rules. Livermore, 25, had played 39 times for Hull this season after being signed from Tottenham for £8m.
Bruce said: “We’re in a state of shock disappointment after everything that’s happened this week. Then you get angry because of Jake’s actions. We’ve had a terrible week but you just have to dust yourself off and go again.”
Hull were enjoying the better of the game against Tottenham when Spurs hit them twice on the break early in the second half through Nacer Chadle and Danny Rose.
Bruce’s week grew more grim as he learned that Sunderland had grabbed a vital point from a goalless draw against Leicester though Newcastle, despite an opening, first club goal from Emmanuel Riviere, had lost 2-1 at QPR.