Hull City fans are rightly excited with the season opener at Preston North End to come this weekend. It’s been a long road back to this league after the collapse and woeful run of results that saw them slip into League One for the 2020/21 season - and they rose to the challenge last year, with Grant McCann’s side winning their first title in 55 years.
Amidst the excitement lies slight apprehension, however. The backdrop of an EFL embargo has the manager’s hands tied, unable to pay any fees for players until the debt is paid off in full. That limits the Tigers to free transfers and loans, which for their first season back in the Championship is a slight worry. Do the Tigers have what it takes?
New arrivals at the MKM Stadium
City have recruited smartly if a little sparsely this summer. Goalkeeper Nathan Baxter has arrived on loan from Chelsea, having impressed at Accrington Stanley last campaign. He will no doubt provide healthy competition with Matt Ingram for the number one jersey with George Long leaving for Millwall.
In defence, they have signed Di’Shon Bernard on loan from Manchester United - but haven’t recruited anyone else in this area. Jacob Greaves, Shaun McLaughlin, Alfie Jones and youngster Andy Smith are all players who will jump at the chance to impress in the Championship, however.
Midfield is where they have really recruited well. Andy Cannon, Randell Williams, George Moncur and Ryan Longman all add to the strength of the squad. They are, however, missing a goal scorer. Josh Magennis will be the main man, but with Mallik Wilks better served as a winger, it may be an area McCann and his team is still working hard to strengthen.
Tom Huddlestone has been training and playing for his former team in pre-season, and could still sign a one-year deal if it works for both parties. He may be aging now, but could add some magic into the squad.
Pre-season in a nutshell
City haven’t played an awful lot of games in pre-season, and have had mixed results. They played two games in the same day back on July 24th, with the first team squad - and a mixture of U23 players - split across the home game against Mansfield Town, and the away match against Scunthorpe United. The former saw the better performance - particularly second half - and Ryan Longman was the key man in the latter, providing Cannon with the assist for his rocket of a finish to win it.
Sunderland away was a lacklustre performance in which they lost 1-2 in the last minute, but they ironically saved their best performance for the home clash with Manchester United U23, which they won 2-0 behind closed doors. Fans will be hoping the lack of game time for some players won’t be an issue going into their season opener.
Who could be the star man?
Some players for City have performed well in the Championship before, but this squad is young and inexperienced at this level for the most part. It’s a big season for Keane Lewis-Potter and Mallik Wilks - both of whom banged in plenty of goals last season. Lewis-Potter in particular really came of age last season - and he’ll need to step it up if he is to keep up to his high standards.
Alfie Jones and Jacob Greaves will be the Center back pairing, keen to impress after good seasons last year. Jones is what pundits call a “Rolls Royce” defender - ball playing, strong and can play in midfield or at centre half. George Honeyman will be keen to prove a point too after a superb season - but will have to wait for his chance, after injury scuppered his pre-season. Greg Docherty will also be a key figure in midfield.
Ryan Longman has been the stand out from pre-season, and it will be interesting to see how he fairs in the Championship after impressing at AFC Wimbledon last season - again on loan from Brighton and Hove Albion.
Young players to watch out for
Given the situation with the embargo, City will presumably have to use their young players in the cups and crowded fixtures when required. Fortunately, City’s academy has produced some great talent recently and chances will come for some of these starlets.
Andy Smith captained the side against Manchester United and looks to be in the same mould as Jacob Greaves - which is exciting for Tigers’ fans. Matty Jacob and Jake Leake impressed in pre-season too, both playing left full back or on the wing. With Callum Elder currently injured, Brandon Fleming is the only other option in the first team lest Josh Emmanuel plays out of position, so one of these two may get minutes this season.
Finally, look no further than Olly Green in midfield. The Driffield born youngster has had rave reviews from local media and fans alike after featuring in two pre season games, and certainly seems to be fancied by his manager. He was Under 18’s captain last year and trained with the first team last campaign before being involved in the senior squad this pre-season. Good on the ball and tough in his tackles, the youngster has a bright future and is certainly a player to keep an eye on.