Goals from Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko inside the opening 11 minutes put the hosts on the back foot, but, rather than fold against the defending Premier League champions, Hull came back with two goals of their own before half-time.
An Eliaquim Mangala own goal and Abel Hernandez's penalty brought the hosts level and it remained that way until Dzeko netted his second of the match after 68 minutes.
Frank Lampard may have added a fourth late on, but Bruce was pleased with the battling spirit that gave Saturday's visitors plenty to worry about.
"We had an awful start but it shows the character of them that they've rolled their sleeves up and got back into it, which I was pleased about," said Bruce at his post-match media conference. "For an hour after that it could have gone either way.
"We weren't quite good enough on the day, but we gave it a right good go and, against a quality team like that, it's all you can ask for.
"We had two or three great chances to take the lead, but unfortunately it didn't quite happen for us.
"They've got fantastic players from one to 11. They're a class act and, if you're champions, you've got to be. They showed that in abundance today.
"Very rarely do teams come back against them, they usually get hammered, and that pleased me enormously.
"We weren't just quite good enough. We've gone toe-to-toe until the last goal went in, so there are plenty of positives we can take out of it."
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