Jimmy Bullard could make his latest comeback from injury in Hull's Premier League clash against West Ham at Upton Park tomorrow. The midfielder damaged his left knee in City's defeat away to Aston Villa on December 5 and limped off the field in tears.
The blow came less than two months after he had returned to action following surgery to his right knee which kept him out for nearly 10 months. He first injured the knee in September 2006 and did not play again for more than a year, so Hull boss Phil Brown is keen not to rush his record signing.
"Jimmy in his own head needs one or two games, not full games necessarily, and a little bit of contact from opposition," said Brown. "Probably on Saturday he might play some part in terms of the bench but he won't be ready to start. Then we've got a game against Wigan in the reserves next Tuesday and we've arranged a game over in Ireland and again that will be earmarked for Jimmy.
"Jimmy's raring to go and it's just managing that situation. We did it very successfully last time. It's piecing that jigsaw together and making sure when he crosses the white line in his first game back that he's ready not just to play but to grab a hold of the game in that fashion that only Jimmy Bullard can do."
And Brown is confident the former Fulham midfielder's natural exuberance on the park will not be affected by yet another serious injury. "The knee is not 100 per cent but it's getting somewhere near," Brown explained. "It's a new reference point because it's a completely fresh injury on a different leg.
"Jimmy's feeling confident about it, the twisting and turning that he's done, and now a lot of work with the ball. If you can control the ball and control the game like Jimmy does, then the confidence follows.
"Psychology plays its part in any recovery and Jimmy has had a whole host of injuries that he's come back from. So that suggests to me that psychologically Jimmy is very strong.
"He's relishing the challenge. He had that challenge at Fulham, they were in dire straits and he came back in and arrested it. He gets players playing."
Bullard began his career with West Ham, the club he supported as a boy, but his last match at Upton Park – on his Hull debut – ended with him suffering the knee injury that required his second bout of surgery. The result that day – a 2-0 victory for the Hammers – made it a doubly bad day for Brown and, with both sides going into the clash only a point above the bottom three, he is determined to make amends.
"It was a place last year where we went and let ourselves down," said the Tigers boss. "It was also a bad night for us with regards to Jimmy Bullard but it's up to us now to put that right."
Brown, meanwhile, has condemned the punishment handed out to Wolves by the Football Association for fielding a below-strength team at Manchester United in December.
Wolves were today given a £25,000 suspended fine after manager Mick McCarthy made 10 changes to his line-up in a game his team lost 3-0. Brown added: "The buck stops with the manager and therefore team selection is down to the manager.
"If Wolves are a Premier League team at the end of the season then Mick McCarthy was justified in his selection, end of story. I'm glad they've suspended it because it's a nonsense that Wolves are getting fined."
Former Republic of Ireland manager McCarthy was reluctant to broach the subject at his press conference ahead of tomorrow's home meeting with leaders Chelsea. But he did concede the action of the league will mean he cannot make the same drastic move again when choosing his side.