DO not let it be said that the early rounds of the EFL Cup represent a hindrance for all Premier League managers.
For rival bosses Mike Phelan and Mark Hughes, team-mates when Manchester United lifted the League Cup – then in its guise as the Rumbelows Cup – for the first time in a 1-0 Wembley win over Nottingham Forest in 1992, it has plenty of importance.
Given the early-season woes of hosts Stoke City, lurching into crisis following a winless start to the Premier League season – compounded by a wretched 4-1 loss at Crystal Palace – a switch of emphasis will be warmly welcomed.
The competition has yielded the Potters’ sole success this term, a 4-0 win at Stevenage, with Hughes craving another positive result to dampen speculation regarding his future.
Phelan has his own business to attend to and while many might venture that the EFL Cup matters little in the greater scheme of things for the Tigers, the Lancastrian’s declaration last week that Hull had three “immense” games with Arsenal and Liverpool in the league and Stoke in the Cup told otherwise.
Tonight gives Phelan the chance of not only giving more potential first-team squad experience to the likes of Josh Tymon, Greg Olley and Jarrod Bowen, but also some invaluable game time to several eve-of-deadline arrivals.
David Marshall, Ryan Mason, Markus Henriksen, Dieumerci Mbokani, James Weir and Will Keane could all be handed the chance to impress, with Phelan clearly grateful for the chance of rotating his first-team squad and freshening up his side tonight.
On the tie’s merit, Phelan said: “It is important because whereas we took Exeter on with the team that played on the Saturday before, we now have a group of players who need games.
“We have an extra six (players) plus a few others and we can pick a team again now to take that challenge on and we have to bear in mind that we have Liverpool and Chelsea after that.
“I think the players have committed themselves really, really well up until this point.
“But we must have a look at them physically now and try and recharge and get over the disappointment of Saturday and see where we go against Stoke and Liverpool.
“I am confident enough to go with different players. That is not just players that we have brought in. There are others who have shown willing from the Under-21s and we will promote a few of them as well.”
Tonight’s tie may be sandwiched between a league triple header with the Gunners, Liverpool and Chelsea, but, as with Phelan, David Meyler is not one to downplay cup matters.
You would not expect him to, with Meyler part of the side who reached the FA Cup final in 2014.
He said: “We saw the success we had a couple of years back when we fell short in the FA Cup final and this is another chance.
“However Mick decides to approach it, I imagine some of the new lads will get a run out.
“They will be desperate to get going and want to win this game.
“It is promising for Mick to have brought in the signings that he has. They are all itching to get a game and it is up to the ones who are playing to stay in there.”
Off the pitch, speculation continues to rage over the future ownership of the club, with three groups keen on taking over.
They reportedly include a Hong-Kong based consortium who are being represented by former Tigers chairman and Leeds United executive director Adam Pearson.
Chinese brother and sister Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li and a rival consortium led by Chinese American businessman Chien Lee – who recently visited the club and is being assisted by ex-Hull chairman Paul Duffen – are also in the mix.
Last six games: Stoke DLWLLL; Hull WWWLDL.
Referee: C Kavanagh (Lancashire).
Last time: Stoke 1 Hull 0, February 28, 2015; Premier League.