A key player for Hull

Nikica Jelavic has done everything asked of him and more since Hull paid GBP6.5million to Everton for him in January last year. He grafts and tirelessly runs the channels, holds the ball up and brings others neatly into play, and is an all-round handful for any Premier League defence.

Nikica Jelavic’s speedy return from injury and Hull’s recent climb, away from the Premier League relegation zone, are no coincidence according to manager Steve Bruce, who has described his Croatian forward as “a warrior.”

Three straight league defeats at the turn of the year had left Hull staring at a relegation dogfight and while the Tigers are by no means clear of danger, their chances of retaining their top-flight status has vastly improved with Jelavic back leading the line.

Hull’s 29-year-old summer signing had scored five goals in 17 appearances before the club’s survival hopes were dealt a double blow when both Jelavic and strike partner Abel Hernandez sustained injury in a defeat at West Brom on January 10.

Hernandez was ruled out with an adductor muscle problem — he has yet to recapture his best form — and club doctors revealed a knee injury was expected to keep Jelavic out for up to six weeks.

But Jelavic bounced back ahead of schedule, missing just one game to return to the starting line-up three weeks later to face Newcastle at the KC Stadium. His comeback ended in a disappointing 3-0 defeat and he started on the bench the following week at Manchester City.

But Bruce’s side turned in a spirited display to take a point from a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium and the Tigers then took maximum points from home games against relegation rivals Aston Villa and QPR.

Jelavic struck the all-important first goal in each game to lift his goal tally to eight this season in 20 league appearances and he is currently Hull’s all-time leading Premier League goal-scorer with a total of 12, his effort against QPR lifting him ahead of fans’ favourite Geovanni.

Jelavic had proved a bigger miss for Hull earlier in the season when a damaged medial meniscus required surgery and ruled him out for four matches.

Bruce has since cited that earlier absence at the start of his side’s struggles this season and when you consider the Tigers have failed to win without Jelavic in their side, it is easy to understand why.

Jelavic has done everything asked of him and more since Hull paid GBP6.5million to Everton for him in January last year. He grafts and tirelessly runs the channels, holds the ball up and brings others neatly into play, and is an all-round handful for any Premier League defence.

And then there are his goals. He raised the roof at the KC Stadium when he scored in the win against former club Everton on New Year’s Day.

“When we signed him he gave everyone a lift,” said Bruce. “He’s a goal-scorer with a wonderful attitude. He’s a warrior, an old-fashioned type of individual.

“That makes him the player that he is. Eight goals is a great return considering he missed a couple of months as well. The goal (against QPR) was great technique.

“When he got injured I don’t think we functioned without the number nine. With him back, and with (Dame) N’Doye alongside him, they’re a handful, which we needed.” Jelavic, born in Capljina on the Bosnian and Herzegovina border with Croatia, joined Hadjuk Split aged 15 and moved on to Belgian side Zulte Waregem and then Rapid Vienna before signing a four-year deal in 2010 with Rangers, who paid GBP4million for him.

He scored 30 goals in 45 appearances for Rangers before Everton swooped with a three-and-a-half-year deal and GBP5million transfer fee in January 2012. He struggled to hold down a regular place towards the end of his spell at Goodison Park and after two years and 16 goals in 59 appearances for Everton, he opted to boost his World Cup chances with Croatia by becoming the focal point of Hull’s attack.

Jelavic has thrived in his lead role for Hull and will play a key role in their bid to stay in the top flight. If he can avoid further knee trouble and maintain his current strike rate of a goal every three games, Bruce’s Tigers have every chance of avoiding the drop.

©PA Sports