It’s Sunday at the time of writing and as Bashful Ben is still hiding in his bedroom under a blanket with his crayons writing his top-secret master plan, it appears Schrodinger’s head coach has earned himself another stay of execution. Neither part of the future, as is obvious to all, or frustratingly, part of the past, he plods on, scarcely believing it himself.
And so to Hull on a Friday night and a game that’s on the telly. Anyone making the trip to watch Wagnerball in the flesh deserves both a medal and a courtesy exploratory visit to a psychiatrist.
I had the honour of kicking these pre-match previews off for the season with the home game against Hull and in my piece, I said that I expected Hull to have a good season, so I’m feeling mildly smug that they’re sitting in seventh place right now.
With a squad of very few well-known names, Liam Rosenior has got them well-organised, attacking, and playing as a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. They don’t know how lucky they are…
Their recent form has been slightly patchy. They, like us, are coming off a 1-1 home draw in the cup against Birmingham, and, just as City did, rested some of their key players, so we should expect them to be refreshed and ready.
In the league, going back to mid-December, they’ve beaten Middlesbrough 2-1 away, and Cardiff at home 3-0, before losing 3-2 at Bristol City and 1-0 at home to Sunderland. They then picked back up with a 3-2 home win over Blackburn, followed by a surprise 3-1 defeat at Hillsborough, albeit they played much of the game with 10 men.
So Rosenior will be looking for greater consistency if they are to maintain their play-off push and will undoubtedly see us as a first step towards that.
They generally set up in a standard 4-2-3-1.
In goal, Rosenior has chopped and changed between Matt Ingram and Ryan Allsop in recent weeks, so it’s unclear who will have the gloves on Friday. As I indicated in my August preview, I thought goalkeeper would be a position that Rosenior would like to improve upon, and at the time of writing it looks like Hull are close to bringing in Croatian goalkeeper Ivor Pandur from Fortuna Sittard to be that man, although he’s unlikely to be in situ by Friday.
At right-back, skipper Lewie Coyle would appear to be the favourite to start, although on a few occasions recently, the experienced Cyrus Christie has got the nod, with the versatile Coyle moving to left-back. Against Birmingham in the cup, midfielder Regan Slater started on the right side, so Rosenior has options.
At left-back, experienced loanee Ruben Vinagre was their big summer signing but has been beset by hamstring problems and so will miss out. Hull have been trying various options to fill his spot, with Coyle, centre-back Jacob Greaves, and the right-footed midfielder Slater all giving it a shot.
However, against Birmingham, academy youngster Matty Jacob made his debut and scored so I would expect him to be favourite to start again. The fact he was also partially responsible for Birmingham’s goal may be a cause for optimism though.
In the centre of defence, Hull have possibly the best young partnership in the league with Alfie Jones and Jacob Greaves. Whilst they do concede goals, it’s generally because the pace and ability on the ball of these two allows Rosenior to gamble and play higher up the pitch, which in turn means they create more chances and score more goals.
Both are cracking individual defenders and will attract admirers in this window or the next. Their backup is the experienced Sean McLoughlin and youngster Andy Smith, who both made rare starts against Birmingham.
Midfield will be interesting. Their regular starters are experienced Ivorian international Jean Seri and Liverpool loanee Tyler Morton but Seri has been out recently with injury issues, and Morton was sent off in their last league match, so it is likely to be a weakened centre of the park for Hull.
I would expect Regan Slater to start in his preferred position alongside either Greg Docherty or Scott Twine, who started together against Birmingham. Docherty is probably the more defensive-minded of the two with Twine more effective further forward, but it will be interesting to see who starts as it could be an indicator of how aggressive Rosenior intends to be.
The wide positions are also not fully set at the moment.
Rosenior would love to have big money signing Jaden Philogene available but he’s out with a knee injury. His preference in recent games has been for striker Liam Delap to start out wide, alongside any one of Slater, Adama Traore (no, not that one), youngster Harry Vaughan, Twine, Iranian Allahyar Sayyadmanesh or Congolese left-footer Jason Lokillo.
In the number 10 position, talisman Ozan Tufan is cemented in and rightly so.
(Since Andy penned this piece, the Tigers are said to be on the verge of signing Liverpool’s Portuguese Under-21 international Fabio Carvalho on loan. The type of signing of which we can only dream at the minute – Ed).
Up front, Aaron Connolly has been the main starter with his bustling performances shifting Delap out to the wing, and Billy Sharp has recently been acquired to add an extra option (because we all know how effective elderly s*ithouses can be).
Hull are a really good team but they have had their share of injury issues to key players like Vinagre and Philogene this season, which have probably prevented them from making even more impressive strides.
This is not a bad time to play them, particularly with their two starting midfielders out and question marks over their best options at full-back and on the wing. However, Rosenior’s men have been dealing with these situations all season and have still maintained momentum, so don’t expect them to fold the way some teams do when they lose a player or two…
My guess is they will take the game to Norwich, who will sit back and try to hit them on the break. Expect the odd exciting foot race between Rowe or Hernandez and the Hull defence when we try and pop the ball over the top in transition.
It will come down to whether Hull can pick apart our defence and how deep we set up. Kenny McLean’s ability to play out from the back could be a big advantage, depending on whether Wagner starts him there or in midfield.
I’m going for a 0-0 draw with both teams cancelling each other out.