HULL CITY believe a deal to sign Joleon Lescott is still alive despite West Bromwich Albion emerging as fresh favourites to sign the former England defender.
Steve Bruce had made the 31-year-old, a free agent after being released by Manchester City, his No 1 defensive target.
After several weeks of talks and the offer of a lucrative two-year contract, Tigers officials were confident of pushing through a deal for Lescott even though Stoke City were among a host of clubs who had registered their interest.
But the dramatic late intervention of new Baggies manager Alan Irvine – who worked with Lescott at Everton – appears to have swung things the way of the Midlands club to scupper all the hard work put in by City since the end of last season.
The defender has been assured his previous time with West Brom’s fierce rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers is unlikely to be a problem with the Hawthorns faithful, while another pull towards his native West Midlands is the presence of Keith Downing and Rob Kelly on the coaching staff. Lescott enjoyed working with both men in the past.
Speaking when unveiled as the club’s new manager yesterday, Irvine, a former Sheffield Wednesday chief, said: “I believe negotiations (with Lescott) are going well. Hopefully we are able to meet Joleon’s demands. That’s the calibre of player we would like to bring in. We are not there yet but there is an interest. I’ve had a great working relationship with him in the past.”
Lescott’s possible rejection of a move to the KC Stadium means Bruce will have to look elsewhere in his quest to bolster the City defence. Harry Maguire remains a target for the Tigers after another impressive season at the heart of the Sheffield United defence.
The 21-year-old, who is also wanted by Wolverhampton Wanderers, received glowing reports in many of the games Bruce had scouted during the build-up to April’s FA Cup semi-final meeting at Wembley.
Whoever does come in to bolster the ranks will face an opening day trip to newly-promoted Queens Park Rangers on August 16. It is the second straight season running that Hull will have begun in west London with last term bringing a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea.
Stoke City will be the first visitors to the KC and with home games against West Ham United and Crystal Palace before the end of September along with a daunting clash with champions Manchester City, Bruce will be hoping for a similar start to 2013-14 where vital points were earned on home soil in the early weeks.
Trips to Aston Villa and Newcastle United, where Hull won 3-2 last term, are also on the agenda in the campaign’s opening two months before the ‘big guns’ appear on the horizon as Bruce takes his men to Arsenal and Liverpool in back-to-back away fixtures on October 18 and 25.
Two more quick-fire tough games on the road see City head to Manchester United on November 29 and Everton four days later, two fixtures that the East Yorkshire club lost in 2013-14.
City’s festive schedule begins with a trip to Sunderland on Boxing Day. The Tigers host Leicester City on December 28 and Everton on New Year’s Day, the Premier League opting to run a full programme of games in contrast to the Football League.
The second half of the season will bring most of the big guns to the KC with Chelsea (March 21), Liverpool (April 18) and Arsenal (May 2) all due in Yorkshire to hand Hull a tough looking run-in.
Manchester United will then be the final visitors of the season on May 24, just as they were in 2008-09 when Phil Brown’s Tigers stayed up despite losing 1-0.
Supporters will, no doubt, have noted with interest where their side are scheduled to be in the opening months of the new campaign. But it should be noted that as many as eight games will have to be rearranged if the Tigers make it through to the group stages of the Europa League.
All Europa League ties take place on a Thursday night, meaning the following weekend’s Premier League encounter has to be pushed back 24 hours.
City kick off their first European campaign on July 31 in the third qualifying round, with the second leg a week later.
A final two-legged qualifier will then have to be negotiated on August 21 and 28, meaning the games with Stoke and Villa would have to be played on the Sunday. The group stages then begin on September 18 and finish on December 11.
Newly promoted Burnley host Chelsea on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season.