WHEN Hull City lost to Manchester City earlier this month, much of the post-match debate centred on how well the title-chasers had performed despite being reduced to 10 men for 80 minutes.
In and among this praise for the Blues, however, was withering criticism of Tom Huddlestone’s performance by former England striker Alan Shearer in his role as a Match of the Day pundit.
Asked about the Hull midfielder’s chances of being called up for the World Cup by Roy Hodgson, Shearer gave a thumbs-down before going on to accuse the 27-year-old of having “no influence on the game whatsoever” and being a “passenger”.
The Premier League’s record goalscorer also went on to suggest Huddlestone was playing too deep a role to influence proceedings.
City’s £5.25m summer signing from Tottenham Hotspur was watching the show, as almost immediately he tweeted: “Game of opinions!!”
A fortnight on, Huddlestone, undoubtedly one of Hull’s key performers this terms, has clearly not forgotten Shearer’s stinging criticism as he prepares for today’s trip to Stoke City.
“The criticism doesn’t really get to me,” said the midfielder, who has started 30 of City’s 31 league games this term after coming off the bench on the opening weekend at Chelsea. “It is one person’s opinion.
“You don’t get too high when you’re getting credit and don’t get too low when you are getting criticism. That is part and parcel of the game and you have just to take it on the chin.”
Asked if he felt Shearer had made any valid points, Huddlestone replied: “I can see where they (the Match of the Day pundits) were coming from. But, on the other hand, I have seen exactly the same sort of clips a couple of weeks before for (Steven) Gerrard and (Gareth) Barry, saying how unbelievable the positioning was, allowing the full-backs to push on and all that.
“In that sense, it was a little strange but, as I said earlier, it is just opinions.”
Huddlestone’s priority at the moment is not proving Shearer wrong. Instead, it is ensuring Hull finish the job of remaining in the Premier League.
Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat at West Ham United saw Steve Bruce’s men on the end of a poor refereeing decision by Mike Dean, who awarded West Ham a penalty despite a clear handball by Mohamed Diame during the build-up.
The only consolation for City, who had to play for more than an hour with 10 men, was that Sunderland’s defeat at Liverpool the same night meant the East Riding club remained eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Victory today at the Britannia Stadium would take Hull on to 10 wins, the target Bruce set his troops before a ball had been kicked last summer.
Huddlestone said: “Stoke are one of the few teams down there who have pulled themselves clear. I would say they are definitely safe now.
“I watched their game against Aston Villa last weekend (Stoke won 4-1) and I thought they were brilliant.
“The way Mark Hughes has gone in and changed their philosophy is full credit to him.
“Having said that, we still know what we are going to get. They are trying to play through midfield a little bit more but, equally, they are all still fit boys and strong.
“Plus, if it has to go from back to front then there is not many better in the game than (Peter) Crouch.
“With that in mind, any point away from home has to be considered a good thing, especially in our position. But if we can play like we did at West Ham with 10 men, I don’t see why we can’t go there and hope for the three points.
“We need to find a medium really but, at this stage of the season, we just need to get as many points on the board as possible.
“Another five or six points will keep us safe this season so we have got a chance to get three at Stoke. Hopefully, we can go into the game with a lot of confidence.”
For much of the season, the scrap to avoid relegation has involved anyone from 10th downwards. However, of late, a couple have started to break away and City’s objective is to follow suit, and preferably before the FA Cup semi-final date with Sheffield United on April 13.
Huddlestone added: “It is getting close for a lot of teams now. There are some teams where every game feels like a must-win but, speaking about ourselves, we know one more win and a couple of draws will see us safe.
“We are running out of games now, though, so we need to get the points on board as quickly as possible.”
City’s defeat at Upton Park came despite Bruce’s men performing better than they had when beating West Bromwich Albion at the KC Stadium a week ago.
The two results, therefore, show that nothing can be taken for granted in the Premier League.
As for Huddlestone, a strong finish to the season will surely make him a leading contender for ‘Player of the Season’ at the KC, which, considering the extra attention he has been getting from opposing managers of late, will be a major achievement.
“There has been a few games where it has felt like that (teams have been targeting him),” said the midfielder.
“Especially the Newcastle game at home. (Luuk) De Jong wasn’t really interested in the ball, he was just interested in staying around me.
“In the last few games, the manager has told me to push up, whether that’s to get on the ball or to make space for Jake (Livermore) or David Meyler to drop in and get the ball.
“As long as we get the result, it doesn’t matter who gets the praise.”