EYES FOCUS ON TIGERS’ STARS AS LEEDS SUNK
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.
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.