Next spring signals the 20th anniversary of Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce winning the double at Manchester United but when the pair reconvene on Saturday their body language may seem surprisingly frosty. Despite that close professional bond during those highly decorated Old Trafford playing days, the Welsh centre-forward and the Geordie centre-half were never close.

As Hughes's Stoke City side take the field against Bruce's Hull at the KC Stadium memories may well be revived of the time ice really began permeating their relationship. Now Stoke's assistant manager, Mark Bowen will be in the away dug-out on Saturday evening but Bruce has never really forgiven Hughes for poaching his old sidekick from Birmingham City to work first with Wales, then at Blackburn Rovers.

Bruce has acknowledged the two old United team-mates "did not speak for years" following a combination of Bowen's defection and Robbie Savage's decision to also exchange Birmingham for Blackburn.

"We've got a mutual respect but it's not right to say we're pals, that's for sure," said Bruce some time after this double blow. "We played in the same team and I enjoyed playing with him but it would be wrong to say we're pals because we're not. I'm not his pal like I am with Bryan Robson or Gary Pallister. I don't think I've spoken to him for years. It happens."

Relations have mellowed slightly in recent times. Hughes, who turned 50 in October, was gratified that Bruce, 53 on New Year's Eve, offered him public support when, back in December 2009, his then Sunderland side lost 4-3 away to a Manchester City team managed by Hughes for the final time. With the Welshman still to be formally informed of the open secret that Roberto Mancini was taking over Bruce made plain his outrage at City's behaviour.

Four years ago neither man would have envisaged themselves seeking to banish relegation worries in the slightly less glamorous surrounds of Hull and Stoke. While Hughes had seemed destined for another prestigious posting - at least until he took a subsequent wrong turn with QPR – Bruce was delighted to have secured the biggest job of his managerial career at Sunderland.

It did not last, ending with an acrimonious sacking in November 2011. Stung by criticism effectively dubbing him "a dinosaur" following his time at Sunderland, a man who, unlike Hughes, became close to Sir Alex Ferguson after leaving United, has since re-invented himself at Hull.

For a time the seemingly slightly disorganised Bruce contrasted badly with Hughes's much more fastidious, disciplined, sports science informed persona – staff at Fulham were sometimes left exasperated by the Welshman's insistence that training ground drinks bottles were lined up with their labels at the same angles - but things have changed.

Last season's unlikely promotion with Hull has brought Bruce new found respect. Indeed the only cloud on a horizon dominated by his team's exciting 3-5-2 formation, Tom Huddlestone's wonderfully calibrated passing and David Meyler's return to the impressive midfield form which saw the young Irishman's career promise so much before he underwent two career saving knee operations at Sunderland is the club's proposed name change.

Protests against the decision of Assem Allam, Hull's owner, to somehow bludgeon through a switch from Hull City to Hull Tigers are expected to serve as a soundtrack to Saturday's game. Should such discontent start unsettling Bruce's players, Hughes will aim to capitalise.

Last weekend's 3-2 home win against Chelsea has helped ease Stoke's sometimes awkward transition from Tony Pulis's brutally direct gameplans to a rather more fluid passing game and Hughes is anxious for another victory.

Like his Hull counterpart he remains in the process of redeeming a dented managerial reputation but will not be under-estimated by Bruce. "People were surprised when Mark Hughes became a manager," he said. "But maybe they shouldn't have been because, as a player, he became a totally different person when he went onto the pitch. He was so quiet and such an introverted character but then he pulled on the shirt and he was like an animal."