A LITTLE over 12 months on from possibly the most famous hair-cut in Premier League history and Hull City fans could be forgiven for wondering if their club’s one-time record signing is suffering from a Samson-style complex.
Certainly, Tom Huddlestone’s form for much of 2014 was a pale shadow of how he had performed in a Tigers shirt before ‘that’ goal against Fulham that brought a long overdue shearing of his then unruly locks.
The 28-year-old is the first to recognise his displays have not matched those of his first few months at the KC Stadium. But, as Hull prepare to take on relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion today, Huddlestone insists any fears that his powers have been permanently eroded are well wide of the mark.
“Things change,” said the midfielder to The Yorkshire Post who now sports a tight hair-cut that borders on crew-cut length down both sides.
“People come in and out of form and that works both ways.
“A few of the lads who haven’t had much of a chance have come into the team and done well. They are fully deserving of their place in the starting XI.
“If I don’t start against West Brom, I wouldn’t have any complaints. Not after the Sunderland and Everton games (both of which Hull won while Huddlestone was suspended).
“Even the Leicester game –which we lost – if we had taken one of the 15 chances we created towards the end of the match, it would have been a positive draw.
“The lads have played well in the games I was suspended for so I have got no complaints.
“It is going to be tough to get back into the starting XI. But I do want to get back in on merit.”
Hull fans will be hoping that being shackled by the chains of a four-game suspension will have had a similar affect on Huddlestone as being imprisoned had on Samson in the biblical tale.
The Tigers need their midfielder to regain the powers that took him into England contention soon after moving north in a £5.5m deal from Tottenham Hotspur. If he does that, the critics who have taken to social media in recent weeks – and particularly since the red card at Chelsea on December 13 that earned the recent ban – will soon be quietened.
Asked about how he has dealt with some of the barbed comments sent his way, Huddlestone replied: “I just try not to take either praise or criticism too closely to heart or personally.
“If you are getting praise, all well and good. But if you are getting criticism, then fair enough as well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
“On Twitter, that is part and parcel of it. If you are going to be on social media sites, you have got to take the rough with the smooth.
“What did annoy me, though, more than anything was people saying I could now have Christmas off. Those people didn’t know the ins and outs of it.
“But if you try to explain yourself (on Twitter) you would be on there all day and you wouldn’t get a chance to live your life.
“The ‘Christmas off’ ones did annoy me, though, because I didn’t have any days off over Christmas. I travelled with the squad to Sunderland on Christmas Day to watch the game.
“When people are jumping to conclusions like that, then that does get annoying.
“To me, as long as the manager’s fairly happy then that is the most important thing.”
Steve Bruce admits he has a big decision to make today. Huddlestone did play in Hull’s last game – the FA Cup loss to Arsenal – but that was only through a need to rest Jake Livermore and David Meyler.
In the wake of that Emirates defeat, the Hull manager revealed how both men had run almost 50km in a six-day festive spell, which included three games.
Bruce followed that up yesterday by telling his weekly press briefing how Livermore and Meyler had been central to Hull’s best display of the season in the 2-0 New Year’s Day victory over Everton.
Ditching either, therefore, will not be easy. Huddlestone added: “Matchdays were disappointing (during the ban) because I wasn’t involved.
“But, on most of them, I went to the training ground to train beforehand. The Sunderland game, myself and Jake Livermore (who served a one-game ban on Boxing Day) were in the gym doing our own session. Fitness-wise, we kept on top of things.
“That is what I mean about those comments over me having Christmas off. The break from playing may have given me a rest mentally. Physically, I felt fine anyway. But, maybe mentally, it could work as a benefit to have had a couple of games without playing. We will see towards the end of the season.”
Regardless of whether Huddlestone starts or not, Hull will today take on an Albion side that will be hoping to enjoy the lift that often comes via the ‘new manager effect’.
Tony Pulis’s arrival has led to many pundits suggesting the Baggies, who are just one place above the relegation zone, can be ruled out when it comes to naming who will finish in the bottom three.
Alan Pardew’s arrival at Crystal Palace has led to similar suggestions, but Huddlestone insists all that matters to the Tigers are their own performances.
“I haven’t looked it like that,” he said when asked about the implication of the two recent appointments. “Pulis’s sides are always difficult to beat and he did unbelievable at Palace last year.
“But it is a different set of players for him. Whether they buy into his ideas or not is yet to be seen. We just have to concentrate on ourselves and do the right things. Over Christmas, that is what we did.”