Hull City boss Grant McCann playing it cool over Tigers’ League One title chances

Grant McCann can play it down as much as he likes, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Hull City are indeed genuine contenders for the League One championship.

MARCHING ON: Hull City's Keane Lewis-Potter scores, his shot deflecting off Oxford's Robert Atkinson. Picture: Tony Johnson

The Tigers head coach is adamant that the title is still “Peterborough’s to lose”, despite his team moving six points clear at the summit courtesy of Saturday’s 2-0 home success over Oxford United.

That victory was the East Yorkshire club’s fifth on the bounce and, in stark contrast to the way they capitulated at the back end of last season – suffering defeat after defeat on their way to a spectacular relegation out of the Championship – City appear to have found their form at just the right time.

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McCann had never won five in a row as a manager prior to Saturday’s triumph at the KCOM Stadium, while his players hadn’t managed to string that many consecutive victories together all season.

YOU'RE THE MAN: Hull City goalscorer Keane Lewis-Potter congratulated by Callum Elder and George Honeyman. Picture: Tony Johnson

Yet here they are, dispatching opponent after opponent in controlled, professional fashion and with an authority which suggests that they are a team who know what they need to do and, crucially, believe that they can do it.

Rewind three weeks and the Tigers were being written off following a run of one win in six league outings.

A 1-0 home defeat to Ipswich Town on February 23 led to calls for the Northern Irishman’s head. In truth, he has never really been forgiven by a large section of Hull’s fanbase for the humiliating manner of last season’s demotion, but if his unpopularity has ever bothered him, he’s never come close to letting on.

And, that apparent discontent among some supporters doesn’t seem to have affected his players, either.

13 March 2021..... Hull City captain Lewie Coyle is pushed to the ground by Oxford's Olamide Shjodipo. Picture: Tony Johnson

With clubs being forced to play twice a week, every week at the moment, things can change – and indeed have changed – quicker this season than probably during any other campaign in recent memory.

They may have completed three fixtures more than nearest challengers Peterborough and two more than third-placed Lincoln, but City are now sitting pretty. They have the points on the board, a far less congested run-in than their automatic promotion rivals, and look very much to be on a roll.

McCann’s message may not have altered, but the reality of the Tigers’ situation certainly has.

“There are still 10 games to go. Darren Ferguson is right, the league title is in Peterborough’s hands,” the Hull chief said.

PLAY IT COOL: Hull City manager Grant McCann with assistant Cliff Byrne on the touchline at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday. Picture: Tony Johnson

“Darren is 100 per cent right. If they win their games, they win the league, it is as simple as that, so it’s in Peterborough’s hands and all we can do is focus on our next job.

“It’s theirs to lose, so all we can do is focus on our own performances, control the controlables and focus on the next game, which is Shrewsbury. We have to keep trying to keep the consistent level of performance that we’re showing at the minute.

“If we can continue with the calmness and maturity that we’re showing, the resilience to keep the ball out of our net and that ruthless edge at the top end, then we’ll give ourselves a good chance, but all we are focused on is Shrewsbury.”

McCann revealed that in the wake of last month’s seemingly damaging loss to Ipswich he had spoken to his charges about approaching the remainder of the campaign in a calm manner.

Perhaps City’s players hadn’t been paying close enough attention to their head coach’s instruction on previous occasions, but they certainly seem to have heeded his words this time around.

Since their most recent defeat, the Tigers have looked pretty unflappable, going about their business in a controlled manner and churning out win after win with few scares and a minimal amount of fuss.

This was certainly the case during Saturday’s success over a strong Oxford outfit. The visitors played some good football and could easily have had a couple of first-half goals, but there was a confidence about Hull’s display and a clarity in the way they executed McCann’s game-plan that suggested they were always going to come out on top.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the response from the disappointment of the 1-0 defeat here against Ipswich,” added McCann.

“Five wins, 12 goals scored, one conceded. It’s been a mammoth effort from everyone involved, particularly the players, to regalvanise and go again.

“Again, I thought we showed a real calmness and maturity about our performance against a good Oxford team.

“We have spoken about staying calm. I’ve always been calm. At this stage of the season, there’s no point being reactive, saying ‘we’re going for the title now’ or ‘we might not make the top-six’ whatever it may be.

“Those sort of comments don’t help anybody so all we’ve got to do is focus on the next game, win lose or draw.

“We’ve got to stay calm and stay focused because we have put ourselves into a good position for the run-in.”

Winger Keane Lewis-Potter was City’s match-winner against the Yellows, cutting inside off the left flank to score with his right foot on 22 minutes, then repeating the trick 19 minutes from time to wrap things up.

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