Manchester City will look to end a four game run without a win when Hull make the trip to the Etihad this weekend. Both teams will be desperate for points as their respective battles for relegation and a top four finish enter the home straight.
Hi Matthew, thanks for talking to us. Hull currently sit just outside the relegation zone with seven games left to play. Can you tell us your thoughts on the first half of the season and Mike Phelan’s management?
It started promisingly, and we were enjoying an autumn of dark humour and collective hardening in battle, as we had an untried manager and a squad of players that was literally too small, in that our injury crisis and lack of support from the ownership meant that filling in a team sheet in its entirety was nigh on impossible. But soon it was apparent that Phelan was out of his depth as a gaffer and was being hung out to dry by the Allams. At times we played some smart football but we had no tactical flexibility, no Plan B and it became a familiar sight to see us lose games that initially we looked like winning. Phelan was a good man but unsuited to the job.
In January, Marco Silva was appointed manager of Hull City. Can you tell us about the changes he has made? Are you happy with how the team is performing?
Silva’s attitude is that nothing should be unexpected – every scenario in a game is prepared for, every player is individually and extensively clued up as to their role. Silva took the money for Livermore and Snodgrass and brought in a handful of players whom he knows or who have something big to prove and made us into a good footballing side. The players, including those loyal to Phelan and Steve Bruce, have all been impressed with him, as has everyone else.
Do you think that you will stay up? Who is going to get relegated come the end of the season?
Our run-in following this weekend is by some distance the kindest – the only seriously good side we face is Spurs, and that’s on the last day, by which time neither side might need any points to know their fate anyway. We have a close to perfect home record under Silva and our next home matches are against Watford and Sunderland, while trips to Stoke, Southampton and Crystal Palace all feel like they bring something attainable. Something is bound to go wrong at some point, it always does with Hull City, but we’ve given ourselves a wonderful chance that we didn’t have in January. Sunderland and Middlesbrough will go down, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh uncontrollably if West Ham’s freefall continues and they join them in the Championship.
What do you think the game plan is for Marco Silva and his men come match day?
Use the flanks, exploit Niasse’s fleet-of-foot ability up front when the chance comes, be patient, defend like mad, don’t give away soft fouls and when a goal scoring chance comes, take it!
Who are going to be the key Hull players when the teams meet at the Etihad?
Harry Maguire is our superstar defender, a colossus in stature and mass and yet a lovely footballer to watch, it’s genuinely gripping to see what he can do when he is given room to bring the ball out of defence and start an attack. We’re praying he’s fit, as he limped off against Middlesbrough in midweek. Our strikers need to take any chances they get and be prepared to work very hard for little reward the rest of the time. And Sam Clucas has been a joy to watch in his new central midfield role, which Phelan gave him; his energy, vision and general willingness to keep everyone else on their toes has been a key aspect of the season. And it’s a pity Tom Huddlestone is still suspended, he’d have enjoyed this weekend’s game.
Finally, please could we have your predicted starting line-up and what you think the final score will be?
Jakupović; Elmohamady, Dawson, Ranocchia, Robertson; Marković, N’Diaye, Clucas, Grosicki; Evandro, Niasse
Optimism is positively rife round these parts, and as your lot haven’t won in four, I’ll say a 1-1 draw. That’s what we got last time we went to the Etihad, and we were winning until injury time…