Hull City v Blackpool - Alfie Jones relishing Tigers battle

“He probably hasn’t played the games he’s deserved to,” says Grant McCann.

Hull City's Alfie Jones. Picture: PA.
Hull City's Alfie Jones. Picture: PA.

This time he is talking about Alfie Jones, but it is becoming a well-worn phrase when he talks about his Hull City squad.

The players just keep on coming. Not only have Jordan Flores and Gavin Whyte joined ahead of Blackpool’s League One visit today, but Andy Smith debuted in the heart of defence in Tuesday’s dramatic Football League Trophy win over Fleetwood Town.

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“I thought Andy Smith was quality, he showed great composure on the ball and good leadership,” says Jones. “I could always hear him communicating. He was outstanding.

“There’s a load more (academy) players that haven’t had their debuts and I think they will in the near future.”

McCann makes no apology for stockpiling players as other clubs watch the pennies.

“This is a season like no other,” he points out. “You can lose four or five players through no fault of your own.
We owe it to these players, to the fans, to everybody to get out of this league as quickly as we can so we want to get stronger for sure.”

Hull are driven by competition this season – with promotion rivals but most of all each other. As McCann acknowledges, Jones has not always been on the right side of it.

“It’s healthy competition, that’s great,” says the man signed from Southampton in September. “There’s no one jealous at all. There’s frustration when you’re not picked but you need that, you want to play every game but unfortunately there’s only 11 shirts. Everyone’s fighting for their shirt, which lifts the performances.

“As soon as I came in the door the boys were at it in training and from day one. I’ve been places before when the training is not as high an intensity but our 11-v-11s feel like a real game.”

There is no guff either about ignoring their rivals. They will be asking how Portsmouth, Doncaster Rovers et al fared before heading into the post-match showers.

“We’re always looking at the league table and we want to be around the top all season,” says Jones, “but saying that, we’ve got to stay focused and take each game as it comes.

“We’re always looking at the results around us because it’s a winning environment. That can give us that extra motivation.”

Hull are waging war on two fronts, feeding the competition. Tonight they find out who they must beat to reach the Football League Trophy semi-finals.

“You saw ten changes against Fleetwood because we’ve got Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday now, finishing with Swindon,” says McCann. “We saw how good Blackpool were at Bloomfield Road a few weeks back and we want to turn the tables on them. Then we’ve got Accrington (at home), Portsmouth, Accrington (away), then Swindon.

“The reaction on the back of three (December) defeats has been excellent. We’ve played three really good teams in this division, we beat Charlton and Fleetwood and we should have beaten Sunderland.

“Earlier in the season there was a bit of talk about we couldn’t beat the teams in and around the top six but we’ve just proven we can challenge with most teams in the league when we’re at it.”

In this almighty scrap for places, it helps to bring something extra. In Jones’s case, flexibility.

“The gaffer signed me as a centre-back but we had an injury in the first couple of weeks and I got a job in midfield,” says the 23-year-old, unsure which is his best position. “Maybe in the future it would be nice to settle down into one position but for now if I’m asked to do a job, I will happily do it.”

Adaptability is more important than ever.

“We all have to stay professional because at any moment any one of the boys could drop out and we know we’ve got to be ready,” argues Jones. “We’ve got to do what we can to help the situation, stick to the (Covid-19) regulations.”

There is one area, though, which can be very difficult. When Hull came from 2-0 down to beat Fleetwood 3-2, Lewie Coyle winning the knockout game with an outstanding long-range finish, it was a moment to let yourself go, but players have this week been warned about goal celebrations.

“The instincts kick in, the adrenaline rushes through your body, especially in the 94th minute so it’s tough not to celebrate but we’re sticking to the protocols so I’m sure it will be fine,” says Jones.

If the Tigers can match his mixture of level-headedness and competitiveness they should indeed be just fine.

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