During the Premier League’s last international-break hiatus, all the way back in October, I picked my top three Hull City players who had really caught my eye in the opening three months of the season. Despite a woeful summer, a positive start to the season had me feeling strangely optimistic about the season ahead, as I picked Curtis Davies, Sam Clucas and Robert Snodgrass as City’s early stand-out performers. However, with only two months left of this season, and just nine fixtures to play, here is who I feel have been Hull City’s top performers in what has turned out to be a fairly miserable season.
Where else to start but at the heart of defence? Big Harry Maguire has been a revelation this season, as the former Sheffield United youngster has finally been handed the opportunity to fulfil his huge potential. Bought by Steve Bruce in 2014 for £2.5 million, the 23-year-old has had to wait for his first team opportunity at the KCOM, behind the likes of Curtis Davies, Michael Dawson, James Chester and Paul McShane in recent seasons. However, due to City’s limited squad and a number of key injuries at the start of this season, Maguire was handed his chance and he certainly has not looked back.
Forming partnerships, both in a back three and flat back four, with the likes of Davies, Dawson and most recently Andrea Ranocchia, the former England under-21 international has been the Tigers’ overall standout player this season. As well as his old-fashioned, no-nonsense approach to defending, Maguire has also offered the Tigers something a bit different going forward. As I have spoken about many times before, his trademark powerful drives forward, which are reminiscent of those made by the likes of Rio Ferdinand and, more recently, Toby Alderweireld, have caused chaos amongst the backlines of some of the Premier League’s best teams this season, and his cannon of a shot, although not always the most accurate, has had many opposition goalkeepers worried.
With the likes of Burnley’s Michael Keane recently making his debut for England, Maguire cannot be far away from an international call-up of his own based on this season’s performances. Unfortunately, with relegation back to the Championship looking increasingly more likely, I would be amazed if Maguire is still a Hull City player come August. With the world at his feet, I don’t think any City fans would begrudge Big ‘Arry a move. He has a big career ahead of him.
As I said back in October, Clucas has unquestionably been the Tigers’ surprise package this season. While the former Chesterfield and Lincoln City man is certainly not the playmaking, match winning player Hull City perhaps have missed this season, he is an essential part of our team, playing what is becoming known as the ‘James Milner’ role. This is to say, Clucas, who was playing Conference football just five seasons ago least we forget, can play a number of different positions incredibly competently, and never lets his side down. He is a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 each week, which is exactly what a side struggling at the bottom of the Premier League needs. His unique record of scoring in the National League, League Two, League One, the Championship and the Premier League in consecutive seasons is testament to how hard he has had to work, and how much he has achieved.
Don’t get me wrong, the 26-year-old is by no means the finished article just yet, and can be frustrating to watch on occasion. However, for the relatively small fee of £1 million we spent on him in the summer of 2015, the graduate of Glenn Hoddle’s football academy has looked by no means out of his depth in the Premier League and, in my opinion, will be a key player for City for many years to come, regardless of which division we find ourselves in.
Like Maguire, Tom Huddlestone is another player I picked-out in this blog a few months ago as being vitally important if Hull City are to stay-up this season. While survival is indeed looking increasingly unlikely with games running out, Huddlestone has paradoxically recently played some of his best football since arriving at the KCOM in the summer of 2013.
As I have frequently discussed, it would appear that Marco Silva’s more ‘European’ style of coaching, which is in sharp contrast to the coaching styles of former managers Bruce and Phelan, has seen the 30-year-old once again start to ‘quarterback’ matches from the centre of the park, creating more chances for his team, and not losing possession as cheaply. Quite bizarrely, Huddlestone also appears to have looked a better player since the sale of his former City and Spurs teammate Jake Livermore. I have no statistical evidence to back myself up, however, on observations alone, Huddlestone’s improved form since Livermore’s departure could well be down the two players simply being too similar, which resulted in a cancelling out effect.
The former England international has played a key role in Marco Silva’s rebuilt Hull City spine. However, his red card on Saturday, and his subsequent suspension, will see him miss vital games against West Ham, Middlesbrough and Manchester City. I really do not think it is an overreaction to say that dubious decision, resulting in Huddlestone missing key games at the most important stage of the season, could well have sealed our relegation. However, I still believe Huddlestone, although frustrating to watch a lot of the time, is one of Hull City’s most technically gifted players of all time, alongside the likes of Raich Carter and Nick Barmby.