EYES FO­CUS ON TIGERS’ STARS AS LEEDS SUNK

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FRONT PAGE - Leon Wob­schall FOOT­BALL WRITER ■ leon.wob­[email protected]­me­dia.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @LeonWobYP

HULL CITY chief Nigel Ad­kins is bracing him­self for ‘mass spec­u­la­tion’ re­gard­ing the fu­ture of sev­eral play­ers af­ter his side con­tin­ued their stir­ring win­ter re­vival with a fine 2-0 win at Cham­pi­onship lead­ers Leeds United.

The Tigers be­came just the sec­ond side to tri­umph at El­land Road in the league this sea­son on Satur­day, thanks to a goal in each half from Jar­rod Bowen as Leeds’s bid to record an eighth suc­ces­sive vic­tory for the first time since 1931 was abruptly halted.

Leeds, who failed to score in a home league fix­ture for just the sec­ond time in 2018-19, were af­forded some so­lace fol­low­ing the news of sec­ond-placed Nor­wich City’s dra­matic 4-3 loss to Derby County, af­ter a flood­light fail­ure de­lay, while third-placed West Brom fail­ing to sig­nif­i­cantly cash in af­ter draw­ing 1-1 with Sh­effield Wed­nes­day.

The Whites re­main three points clear of the Canaries and five ahead of the Bag­gies, with in-form Sh­effield United seven points be­hind their York­shire neigh­bours at the end of 2018.

Fifth-placed Mid­dles­brough are nine points be­hind Leeds.

Bowen – who took his sea­son’s goal tally to 10 – and fel­low winger Kamil Grosicki were out­stand­ing in Satur­day’s win, a re­sult which ex­tended Hull’s own un­beaten run to seven matches.

Tigers chief Ad­kins is un­der­stand­ably keen to re­tain the likes of the tal­ented duo in the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow, but de­spite be­ing given as­sur­ances that the club do not have to sell, he is philo­soph­i­cal enough to ad­mit that a big-money bid could change the pic­ture.

Ad­kins said: “There will be mass spec­u­la­tion about ev­ery­one. Jar­rod Bowen has scored two great goals and Grosicki has looked a mas­sive threat again. To­gether, they are a po­tent force com­ing for­ward.

“We are an in-form team, so I imag­ine a lot of clubs will be look­ing at sev­eral of our play­ers. We will just see what hap­pens and look to keep the mo­men­tum go­ing.”

On whether he ex­pects to lose Bowen and Grosicki, he added: “We are not look­ing to. The own­ers have said we do not need to. How­ever, we all know what foot­ball can be like.

“Jar­rod has scored 14 last sea­son, he’s got 10 this sea­son. He is a young English player who is ex­cit­ing and has got flair. Who knows what will hap­pen?

“As far as I am aware, there has been noth­ing (ap­proaches). I am sure his rep­re­sen­ta­tives would love to have him touted around ev­ery­where, that is foot­ball. But I am re­ally pleased that he is work­ing hard for the team.”

Ad­kins ad­mits that his hopes of in­com­ing ar­rivals over the next month hinge on the com­ple­tion of a club takeover and he is none the wiser as to whether he will be able to add to his squad in the new year and push on for the top 10 in 2019.

On the prospect of new sign­ings, Ad­kins, whose side have lost just once in their past 11 matches – win­ning an im­pres­sive seven – said: “I have talked about it be­fore and the club is all about sus­tain­abil­ity. There is a bud­get in place.

“There is a po­ten­tial sale of the club that has been go­ing on. Is it go­ing to hap­pen, isn’t it go­ing to hap­pen? That af­fects the bud­gets and the fi­nances. Who knows?

“We would like to do busi­ness. We wanted to do busi­ness when I came in last year, I wanted to do busi­ness in the sum­mer. I want to do busi­ness now.

“But we can­not lose sight of what we have got. We are all hav­ing a right good go, but now is a great chance to go and kick on.”

Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa elected not to be overly-crit­i­cal of his side’s ef­forts af­ter wit­ness­ing a first home league loss since Septem­ber 22.

The re­sult en­sured that United dropped points for the first time since Novem­ber 10.

Bielsa said: “The per­for­mance of the team and the kind of game we played was not par­tic­u­larly dif­fer­ent to our other games. Usu­ally, we have three times more chances to score than the op­po­nent and we dom­i­nate the game. This game was not dif­fer­ent in that sense.

“Maybe we should have taken more shots from dis­tance be­cause our play in the cen­tre put us in good po­si­tions to shoot from out­side the box.”

Leeds may have been handed an end-of-year re­al­ity check, but Hull chief Ad­kins be­lieves that it rep­re­sents just a blip in their strong sea­son and fully ex­pects them to go on and be pro­moted.

Ad­kins, who led Southamp­ton to the top-flight in 2011-12, added: “They are spot on. We have played all the top teams and we have done all right, but Leeds have to go up this year. This is their year.

“That is prob­a­bly why it makes it more spe­cial that we have come to a packed El­land Road and got the win with a clean sheet.”

‘MAULED by the Tigers’ was the joy­ous – if slightly idio­syn­cratic – chant do­ing the rounds among ec­static Hull City fans in the away en­clo­sure of the West Stand dur­ing the sec­ond half on Satur­day.

In terms of Leeds United’s sea­son, the vis­i­tors in­flicted a cat scratch rather than a full-scale lac­er­a­tion upon the hosts. But it was a nasty gash on the day.

The party mu­sic stopped for Leeds af­ter in­cred­u­lous de­vel­op­ments in stop­page-time wins ver­sus As­ton Villa and Black­burn and proved good things do not nec­es­sar­ily come in threes.

This time the late drama was re­served for Car­row Road where the lights went out in more ways than one on sec­ond-placed Nor­wich, whose 4-3 loss to Derby af­ter a flood­light fail­ure pre­served the Whites’ three-point lead at the Cham­pi­onship sum­mit.

It soft­ened the blow of a poor day for United, while high­light­ing that pos­i­tive sec­ond-tier sto­ries are be­ing penned in other parts of York­shire and not just in Leeds.

This was Hull’s spe­cial mo­ment. A day that started in ex­pec­ta­tion of Leeds record­ing an eighth suc­ces­sive league win for the first time since 1931 ended with Hull tak­ing their De­cem­ber points tally to 16 points from six games. No sec­ond-tier side has taken as many this fes­tive month.

The post-match cel­e­bra­tions among the Tigers’ faith­ful were in marked con­trast to much of the ap­a­thy that has shrouded the club like a thick fog in 2018.

Af­ter what they have been through few would be­grudge Hull their mo­ment. Sadly wor­ries abound about the new year and it re­mains to be seen if the likes of match-win­ner Jar­rod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki re­main in their colours come Fe­bru­ary.

For the time be­ing there are one or two smiles preva­lent again in East York­shire – and for that there is grat­i­tude.

Goal­keeper David Mar­shall, af­forded the sort of steady af­ter­noon that he would have scarcely en­vis­aged be­fore kick-off, said: “It is def­i­nitely the most sat­is­fy­ing re­sult of the sea­son.

“We have been on a good run of form, but we knew how dif­fi­cult it would be com­ing here with the way they had won their last two games and the way the crowd gets be­hind them, so we were ex­pect­ing a tough af­ter­noon. I thought we were well worth the vic­tory.

“There is a bit of optimism now. Since I have been at the club it has not been a great time, so I would say com­ing here to beat the top of the league away from home gives us an optimism now.

“Since I have been here they (sup­port­ers) have had to con­tend with a hell of lot. It has not been an optimistic place at all and I can com­pletely un­der­stand why.”

Leeds might have right­fully been commended for the way in which they have made light of ad­ver­sity by shrug­ging aside the ab­sence of key play­ers to post vic­to­ries this sea­son, but they do not pos­sess the sole patent on that.

With­out the key trio of Jack­son Irvine, who net­ted twice in the Box­ing Day win at Pre­ston, joint top-scorer Fraizer Camp­bell and influential de­fen­sive lieu­tenant Tommy El­ph­ick – with news of the lat­ter’s re­turn to par­ent club As­ton Villa be­ing an­nounced just an hour be­fore kick-off – few will have spo­ken with a de­gree of con­fi­dence about the Tigers’ hopes.

It was all power to Hull and man­ager Nigel Ad­kins that they stayed on mes­sage to pro­duce an ex­em­plary dis­play of grit, or­gan- isa­tion and pol­ish where nec­es­sary, while win­ning their in­di­vid­ual bat­tles across the pitch.

Hull’s early raids on the counter-at­tack hinted at dan­ger, but Bowen’s opener on 25 min­utes owed more to fit­ful de­fend­ing.

A cross from Grosicki was not cleared, with Kalvin Phillips fail­ing to clear his lines prop­erly, and Bowen drilled home his shot in a flash.

Leeds’s best first-half mo- ments saw Pablo Her­nan­dez fire a half-vol­ley over and sting the palms of Mar­shall, but all too of­ten they ran into cul-de-sacs with Hull first to the loose balls in mid­field and res­o­lute and alert in de­fence.

As game plans go Hull’s worked to per­fec­tion and a fur­ther sweet­ener ar­rived on 58 min­utes when they un­dressed the hosts skil­fully.

Grosicki left Barry Dou­glas in his slip­stream be­fore see­ing his cut-back blocked with Bowen in­stantly seiz­ing on the re­bound to ram home his 10th of the sea­son.

Piqued Leeds pressed, with blocks on the line by Jon To­ral and Todd Kane deny­ing Luke Ayling and Tyler Roberts, but this was no grand­stand fin­ish.

Mar­shall saved well at the end to tip over Ke­mar Roofe’s header, but Hull’s out­stand­ing de­fence were not to be moved.

On an­other in­con­gru­ous af­ter­noon at the top of the Cham­pi­onship, mid­fielder Adam For­shaw said: “It was a chance missed, but I think they (Nor­wich) will be think­ing the same as well.

“We can only fo­cus on the next game now and try and put it right.

“Un­for­tu­nately, we were maybe slightly a lit­tle bit flat at times. The pre­vi­ous games had been whirl­wind games, but we can­not re­ally over-an­a­lyse too much at the mo­ment be­cause we have got an­other big game on Tues­day.

“If you want to get pro­moted, you al­ways want to guar­an­tee you get two points per game, so we are still in credit.”

NIGEL AD­KINS: Hull City man­ager re­mains in the dark over the club’s po­ten­tial takeover.

PIC­TURES: GARETH WIL­LIAMS/AHPIX

VIC­TORY LEAP: Hull City’s two-goal hero Jar­rod Bowen, above, is mobbed by Rob­bie McKen­zie at the full-time whis­tle. In­set, Bowen scores his sec­ond goal against lead­ers Leeds United in the Cham­pi­onship en­counter at El­land Road.

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