EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) has been mightily impressed with Hull City’s recent rise and looks at how Nigel Adkins has turned things around.
One To Watch – Hull on the march
On 28th November, Hull City languished in 22nd with just 17 points from 19 games.
Now, they sit proudly in 10th with 39 points from 27 .
This run of seven wins from eight, with Saturday’s dominant 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday being the most recent triumph, is one of the most incredible streaks of the Championship season to date.
But what is the method behind the magic? We investigate just how the Tigers have rediscovered their roar.
The Grosicki and Bowen combo
Kamil Grosicki, who has played 64 games for Poland, can be an asset at Championship.
In the summer, there were suggestions that he was slightly unsettled on Humberside and wanted a move away, which might have impacted his early season form.
More recently however, Grosicki has seemingly got his head straight and started to look more like the player who starred at Euro 2016.
Although not quick in the obvious sense, the 30-year-old can keep close control of the ball in tight areas which enables him to wriggle his way away from defences.
He produces his passes and shots with great accuracy, making him a key figure in every good attacking move Hull put together.
Jarrod Bowen, meanwhile, brings energy and exuberance to Hull’s attack, but he also makes cleverly-timed runs that allows him to pick up goalscoring positions, which is why he has netted nine times in his last eight appearances.
Although Grosicki and Bowen play wide on paper, they are in fact central figures behind Hull’s attacking play and when the ball is in the final third, they are very often the ones taking a lot of touches, influencing proceedings in a telling way.
To complete the equilibrium of the attack, therefore, Hull have needed a striker and an attacking midfielder that are almost a little bit shy in certain respects.
That might sound perplexing, but if they had three players who were all trying to influence the attacking play as prominently as Grosicki and Bowen do, it is possible that it would become quite congested and that opposing teams might find it easier to simply crowd out space wherever the ball is.
What attacking midfielder Evandro and striker Chris Martin do, meanwhile, is focus on making decoy runs.
Last time out, Grosicki took as many as 33 touches in the final third, within the width of the 18-yard box; Bowen 15 in the same metric.
By contrast, Evandro took only five touches in those areas in 70 minutes of action and Martin, just six in 82.
The classic use of the 4-2-3-1 system sees wide men getting through most of the work off the ball and the two forwards given the creative freedom, but Nigel Adkins has reversed the roles in a way that appears to have confused opposing defences.
Hull’s back-line looked like an area of potential weakness earlier in the campaign.
Jordy De Wijs, a left-field summer addition from PSV, appeared rash at times, while Reece Burke, despite having impressed at Bradford in 2015-16, was taking his time to adjust to Championship level.
Perhaps it was the September arrival of Tommy Elphick, a Championship title-winning captain with Bournemouth, which slightly stabilized the rear-guard, giving De Wijs and Burke some guidance.
Since Elphick played his final game for the Tigers on Boxing Day, Reece Burke has stepped up and they have both won a lot of their individual duels, keeping Hull on the front-foot.
Kane’s sweet right foot
Todd Kane showed flashes of his technical capabilities while at League One Oxford last season; at the start of this campaign, that perversely almost counted against him.
Adkins knew he has a strong right foot and thus wanted to get him high up pitch, sometimes playing him on the left-wing while there were question marks about Grosicki.
Kane though had never played in that position before and adjusting to a higher level whilst taking on a new role proved challenging.
Since moving back to his normal position, Kane has been one of the most impressive right-backs in the Championship, keeping out the more experienced Eric Lichaj by showing strong stamina and producing technically accomplished displays.
The 25-year-old, who must surely consider a permanent switch after 19 years of being on Chelsea’s books, has progressed further over the last six weeks.
After Adkins was appointed manager last season, he received some criticism for persisting with Marcus Henriksen.
Many supporters, who had watched the Norwegian since he joined in 2016, had initially struggled to see what he offered.
Only four central midfielders in the Championship who have made more than 20 appearances have averaged more tackles per 90 minutes than Henriksen (2.2), while only one has made more interceptions (1.5).
The 26-year-old was named club captain in the summer and for a long time fans, many of whom will have grown up watching a gladiator like Ian Ashbee having the armband, considered him to be too timid for the role.
More recently though, Henriksen has grown into the position and shown the passion, aggression and commitment that has started to endear himself to the natives.
Hull had looked devoid of leaders earlier in the season – but now, we are starting to see players like Henriksen become more demanding, authoritative and vocal.
The Betting Angle
If Hull managed a top half finish, considering all the off-field issues surrounding the club, that would be one of the biggest achievements of the Championship season.
The way they are playing, it looks well within their range.
Championship – Hull to finish in the top half (10/11 BetVictor)