Hull City boss Nigel Adkins comes back to haunt former club Sheffield United

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 24 February 2018, 09:58

Championship outfit Hull City moved up to 20th, and three points clear of the drop zone, after recording a much needed 1-0 victory at home to a disappointing Sheffield United.

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) gives his thoughts on the game...

Positive Nigel makes his mark

“The biggest room in my house is the room for improvement” an old quote from Nigel Adkins.

The ex-physio’s belief in forward-looking psychology meant that, when he took charge at Sheffield United back in 2015, he was coined ‘positive Nigel’, in contrast to the tactically cautious ‘Negative Nigel’ Clough who preceded him.

If anything, Adkins was too positive and not only was he unable to endear himself to the locals to anywhere near the extent of his successor, Chris Wilder, he guided the Blades to just 11th in League One. There are signs at his latest club Hull City though, that the pull-together positivity Adkins tries to cultivate is making it’s mark.

They climbed to 20th on Friday night with a 1-0 win over his previous employers – and, amid off-field protests against owner Assem Allam, it was a deserved win. The Tigers dominated the first 20 minutes, during which Evandro forced a fine save from the goalkeeper and Nouha Dicko fired wide during a transitional attack.

Hull had to withstand a brief period of pressure early in the second half, when Angus MacDonald’s one lapse in concentration went unpunished due to a fine Allan McGregor save.

That stop proved vital because three minutes later, Nouha Dicko came alive. His firm snapshot was tipped wide and from the resultant corner, a cool reverse pass from inside the box by Jackson Irvine released Dicko, who tucked the ball home.

What was perhaps most impressive – and perhaps refreshing - about Hull’s performance was the way they managed that lead. While most teams in the same position would cede possession and retreat into their defensive third, Adkins’ men retained the ball confidently. Full-backs Ola Aina and Max Clark looked assured in possession, Sebastien Larsson showed his experience while Irvine strutted around dictating play with healthy arrogance.

Substitutes Fraizer Campbell and Kamil Grosicki added fresh energy, helping to stop their opponents playing out from the back with any comfort. Even in injury-time, Adkins urged his players on to press the centre-backs or even the goalkeeper – the fact they obliged speaks volumes for the improved fitness levels.

Hull were rewarded for their performance with victory that took them three points clear of the drop zone ahead of Saturday’s games; it’s clear 'Positive Nigel' has his mojo back.

Tough-talking Wilder’s Blades fall short

If Nigel Adkins favours positive psychology, Chris Wilder tried reverse psychology after his side’s defeat.

“With performances like that, we don’t deserve to be in the top six.” The Sheffield United boss said, spending the whole post-match interview questioning the credentials of his side.

He claimed that the established challengers, Cardiff, Aston Villa and Fulham, would have won this fixture. The sincerity of such remarks is debateable – Villa and Fulham drew their respective encounters with the Tigers while Cardiff edged an uneventful clash in the capital – so it may be that Wilder is using doubt as a motivational tool.

While motivation might have been an issue on Humberside, a bigger one was their use of the ball. Too often, they pumped it forward aimlessly, which didn’t suit strikers Billy Sharp and Leon Clarke, who at 32 and 33 respectively, lack the pace required to relish wild goose chases.

Sheffield United’s better spells came when they kept the ball on the deck. Their more composed football allowed midfielder John Fleck some time in possession and gave opportunities to right wing-back George Baldock and right centre-back Chris Basham to make their mark down the channel.

The duo did so successfully during Sheffield United’s period of pressure early in the second half, but Billy Sharp was unable to capitalize, finding only the goalkeeper’s legs one-on-one. That mishap proved costly, because some poor defending from a set piece moments later saw them clumsily leave the opposition’s lone striker unmarked to slot home.

Mark Duffy was introduced just after the hour mark, but such was the failings of the midfield behind him, he was forced to spend too much time and energy tracking back. The ex-Birmingham man was therefore unable to get between the lines and deliver the quality balls we have seen from him earlier in the season.

Rather therefore than go down fighting in the closing stages, Sheffield United finished with a whimper: only a last-minute, last-ditch block from Jack O’Connell stopped them suffering further punishment.

Defeat sees them miss the opportunity to move into the top six, leaving Wilder to question their ability to get in there. Honest or otherwise, he will be hoping his players respond with well-channelled outrage.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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