TOM HUDDLESTONE last night admitted that being dropped by Hull City for the first time provided the kick up the backside his season needed.
The 27-year-old’s omission from the Tigers side that took on Manchester United a week ago came on the back of what had been, by the midfielder’s own standards, a below-par run of performances.
Huddlestone was man enough to realise that. As he watched from the bench as Hull were beaten 3-0 at Old Trafford, the club’s one-time record signing vowed to seize the opportunity of a return when it next came long.
As it happened, he had to wait just four days as Steve Bruce rang the changes at Everton and was rewarded with his side claiming a precious point to move out of the relegation zone.
Huddlestone was central to the big improvement in performance with a controlled display in the centre of the field as a damaging run of four straight losses came to a welcome end. He admits to using the new experience of being dropped – he had started 45 of Hull’s previous 49 league games, his only absences being through suspension and when rested during the build-up to the FA Cup final – as a galvanising tool.
“The manager spoke to me before he announced the team to face Manchester United,” he said ahead of today’s crunch encounter with West Bromwich Albion at the KC Stadium. “On the Friday night, I think.
“I hadn’t been happy with my own performances so I took it on the chin. I had no problems with it at all. That is what the manager gets paid for, to make those decisions.
“Training had been brilliant every day and my thinking is that some of the lads deserve their chance if I am not performing on a match-day.
“You want to play in every game possible. I was disappointed not to play but this is a long, old season.
“There are seven games in December so I know they will come thick and fast for the next few weeks. Plus, it maybe did give me that little kick up the a*** that I needed. Against Everton, I felt good and felt the team did well all round.”
Wednesday’s trip to Goodison Park was noticeable for how Bruce reverted to the players who helped Hull to their highest ever league finish last term.
In came Liam Rosenior, David Meyler and Stephen Quinn to leave just Michael Dawson and Mohamed Diame of the summer arrivals in the starting XI, while goalscorer Sone Aluko was unleashed from the bench shortly after half-time.
The switch back to the old guard brought a performance similar to those of 2013-14 and Huddlestone believes a major factor behind the improved performance was a tweak of formation.
“In some games we have given teams too much respect from the start,” said the midfielder. “But last year we were up and in the opposition’s faces from the very start.
“I thought we were back to that at Everton. To a man, I felt everyone grafted as hard as they could.
“We need to be in their faces. We respect the opposition but don’t show them too much respect. Even the top teams, if you get in their faces then it makes it difficult for them.
“You always create chances and I thought we did that against Everton.
“The change of formation helped us as it meant we could get further up the pitch and put a bit more pressure on the opposition.
“You see some teams come here and sit off them. But Everton are one of the best teams in the league at keeping the ball.
“Getting in their face was important because that made it difficult for them.
“As long as the back four is pushed up – as they were – it limits the space that the player in behind (Romelu) Lukaku can play in to be effective.
“I felt the defence was as high up as they could have been and that allowed us to put more pressure on their defence and the deep lying midfielder.”
Hull’s slump in form came after a bright and encouraging start, as the goals flowed amid a host of chances being created.
Given the fact Aluko’s second-half equaliser at Goodison was only the second time Hull had found the net in almost 10 playing hours, it is clear to see why points proved so hard to come by in November.
Fresh from claiming a second draw in as many visits to Merseyside this season, the Tigers today host a West Brom side who have lost their last four matches.
“West Brom is a big game,” said Huddlestone. “We have had some decent draws against teams like Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal. But those games won’t define our season.
“Playing the likes of West Brom, teams in a similar position to ourselves, will be vital in helping us stay in the Premier League.
“We need to take our draw at Everton into West Brom because, on our day, we can be a good team. The way we started at Everton was good, looking to limit them and put more pressure higher up the pitch.
“The 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation means you have more options when you have the ball and I thought we played some decent stuff.”
As for the season, Huddlestone added: “We do have a bit of catching up (in terms of the 10 wins managers Bruce sets as pre-season target). But, as long as you keep a level points to games ratio, then you won’t go far wrong.
“We signed a few new players in the summer and once everyone gels together then we can kick on and start collecting the points that our performances deserve. On the Everton performance, I think it is coming together.”