On the eve of the kick off to the Premier League season, Hull’s caretaker manager Mike Phelan was saying that he did not have a squad capable of competing to a Premier League standard.
Just under a month later and Phelan may want to reassess that view as his team have already registered two wins, one of them against champions Leicester City, and fell short to Manchester United by virtue of a last-minute winner.
Phelan, who is on the verge of being confirmed as Hull’s new permanent manager in succession to Steve Bruce, joins Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte on the shortlist for August Manager of the Month and the 53 year old, who for so long operated in the shadows of Sir Alex Ferguson as assistant at Manchester United, deserves to be amongst such lofty company in the bid for individual recognition.
Operating under the uncertainty created by a possible takeover of the club whose owner Assem Allam has been seeking to sell since 2014, Phelan has had to work with resources lightyears away from those enjoyed at Manchester City, Chelsea and United this summer, starting the campaign with 13 players and having to wait until the penultimate day of the transfer window to sign anyone.
Having guided Hull to promotion via the playoffs, Bruce departed less than a month before the season started, citing frustration at a lack of transfer activity at the KC Stadium.
Mohamed Diame, the midfield powerhouse who was instrumental in Hull’s promotion and who scored the winning goal in the playoff final defeat of Sheffield Wednesday back in May, followed Bruce out of the door to sign for Newcastle a fortnight later and all seemed doomed.
Long-term injuries to goalkeeper Allan McGregor, captain Michael Dawson, Moses Odubajo and Alex Bruce all arrived without Phelan being able to sign cover and with Harry Maguire’s struggle for fitness ruling him out of the opening two games, Jake Livermore had to line-up as a makeshift centre-back alongside Curtis Davies, Phelan’s only available centre-half, in the opening match with Leicester.
The defending champions were beaten with a well organised display that blended a parsimonious defence with the craft and intelligence of Robert Snodgrass and Sam Clucas.
Snodgrass was excellent a week later in the defeat of Swansea while Clucas, who was three years ago playing for Mansfield Town in League Two, impressed against Manchester United.
Davies, who invoked the spirit in Phelan’s wafer-thin squad with a humorous squad picture in pre-season, has led the way at the back with a couple of commanding displays.
Swansea were seen off convincingly with an assured counter-attacking performance and with goals from Shaun Maloney and Abel Hernandez who, if Hull are to achieve what looked impossible in July and avoid relegation, will have to produce some of the form that got him 22 goals in the promotion campaign.
It was fortunate for Phelan, given how late it was in the window, that Hernandez’s proposed £20 million move to Aston Villa fell through.
The manager will now be tasked with restoring the Uruguayan striker’s focus on Hull’s Premier League cause.
Sense of closure and a beginning of a new, fruitful chapter
The unbeaten start then narrowly fell to Mourinho’s United in the driving rain, but Hull signed off for the international break with the clouds beginning to clear over Humberside.
Vice chairman Ehab Allam, Assem’s son who is running the club as his father recovers from a serious illness, wrote in the match program that it would be the family’s last game in control of the club as they are in advanced talks with a consortium of Chinese investors.
Approval of the deal is now in the hands of the Premier League and is expected to be ratified by the end of the month, though the newly-discovered cash revenues have already talked with the club-record £13 million signing of Ryan Mason from Tottenham Hotspur.
Goalkeeper David Marshall was also signed a day before the window closed for a fee that could rise to £5 million, while Will Keane arrived from Manchester United for £1 million to provide competition in attack.
The imposing Dieumerci Mbokani arrives on loan having spent a season in England with Norwich City, while Markus Henriksen of AZ Alkmaar, coming initially on a loan deal before a permanent deal is sealed for €6 million in January, is an exciting addition having made a name for himself in the Netherlands for the incisive bursts into the box that got him 19 goals last term.
James Weir, who captained Manchester United’s under-21 side last season and was handed a first-team debut by Louis Van Gaal, also came in on deadline day and will add to a midfield that, with Clucas and Snodgrass, as well as Tom Huddlestone and David Meyler, is high on guile, technique and, most importantly for a potential relegation battle, graft and work-rate.
Boost in squad numbers; a less daunting journey
The signings boosted Phelan’s squad numbers up from 14 to 19 and the task ahead, beginning with a trip to fellow-promoted side Burnley on Saturday, doesn’t appear to be as daunting now given how his spirited side have adapted to the league.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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