HARRY MAGUIRE believes Hull City reaching the League Cup quarter-finals for only the second time in the club’s history can breathe fresh life into their season.
The Tigers edged past Bristol City on Tuesday night with a 2-1 victory that brought to an end a four-game losing run that had seen Mike Phelan’s men concede 15 goals.
City may have needed a last-gasp block from Curtis Davies to ensure the Ashton Gate tie did not go to extra-time but their all-round performance was much improved on the sorry efforts against Bournemouth and Stoke City.
Maguire, the scorer of Hull’s first goal in the Cup triumph, said: “Before the game, we spoke about needing a positive result.
“We got one and, hopefully, that is the little bit of momentum that we need to take into the league.
“People say some teams don’t take Cup competitions seriously but we showed how much it meant. Everyone put in a great effort to get us through to the next round, which is what was needed. We had to get that win and, fingers crossed, we now take this into Watford (on Saturday).
“The past few weeks have not been easy. It hurts when you concede goals. We had a horrible run of fixtures and went down to 10 men in two games. It is hard enough against 11 men in the top league.
“But the last two (a 6-1 loss at Bournemouth and last Saturday’s 2-0 home reverse to Stoke) have been disappointing.
“We went to Bournemouth, who are a good side, and just didn’t perform. We were far too open and gave them goals, rather than Bournemouth earning them.
“If you look back at the stats that day, it was pretty even – apart from them punishing silly mistakes. I think four of the goals were from set-pieces.
“Against Stoke, we were very disappointing and the lads knew that. That made Bristol all about the response and we got one.”
City will head to Vicarage Road this weekend having taken just one point from a possible 21. It is a run that contrasts sharply to the opening eight days of the season when Leicester City and Stoke City were both beaten by a squad down to just 11 fit outfield players.
Maguire admits results have not been good enough, even allowing for the tough scheduling that saw Hull take on Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool on consecutive weekends before last month’s international break.
But, the defender insists, things can turn around again in the league quickly.
“With the start we got off to, people did expect more from us,” he said. “But, listen, we are Hull City in the Premier league. Everyone is writing us off but we firmly believe we have the ability and togetherness to stay up.
“It is all to play for. Seven points from nine games isn’t the worst start and a lot of teams would prefer to be on that number of points.
“We have a big game at Watford and if we win it takes us on to 10 points from 10 games, a situation we would probably have taken at the start of the season.”
Phelan’s switch to the 3-5-2 formation that was employed by Steve Bruce for long periods of his reign in the East Riding was a big feature of Tuesday’s win. The recent injury to Andrew Robertson means Hull do not have a recognised full-back in the squad, as the Stoke loss painfully underlined.
But, with three men at the back, City’s set-up features wing-backs – a role that Ahmed Elmohamady, for one, is much more suited to.
Sam Clucas, likely to return at Watford after Josh Tymon deputised in the Cup win over Lee Johnson’s Robins, is also more at home when given licence to roam forward.
Phelan will not be drawn on whether he will stick with 3-5-2 at Vicarage Road but Maguire admits to having enjoyed the switch
“I like the formation,” added the former Sheffield United defender. “We worked on it in training on Monday and took that into the game.
“They threw everything at us in the last 10 minutes and maybe having three centre halves was the difference.
“It helped us get through that onslaught after Lee Tomlin had scored in stoppage time.”
City’s poor recent results have come at a time when injury problems have been mounting.
Robertson being ruled out for up to eight weeks was the first of three major blows as Moses Odubajo suffered a serious setback that is likely to keep the full-back out all season and Robert Snodgrass was ruled out for a month by an ankle injury.
Amid this gloomy picture, however, there has been one ray of light and that is Michael Dawson’s return to action after missing the opening two months of the season.
City’s captain started against both Stoke and Bristol City, and Phelan was full of praise for the 32-year-old.
“Michael is a good guy and he knows what it takes to win football matches,” said the Tigers head coach. “He does inspire those around him. We’ve got a few new players in the group but they understand that having Michael in the team is a plus.
“If you ask a player like him how he feels and they say they’re ready, then you get them in there and playing. We have just got to be careful because we are not the biggest squad in the world.”