THE banks of empty seats that provided the backdrop to the first of two tussles inside five days between Hull City and Derby County were not exclusive to the KCOM Stadium.
Instead, the fading appeal of the League Cup, at least in the early stages, meant attendances were down across the country for this week’s second-round ties.
Just 7,290 fans, for instance, filed through the turnstiles at Stoke City for the visit of Premier League Huddersfield Town, while the crowds at Leicester City and Middlesbrough barely scraped into five figures as Fulham fell just short.
In that context, the 4,666 hardy souls who watched a youthful Hull side thrashed 4-0 by Frank Lampard’s Rams in midweek doesn’t look too bad.
Scratch a little deeper, however, and the apathy that brought the Tigers’ lowest home attendance since leaving Boothferry Park in 2002 cannot be merely attributed to the Carabao Cup.
Not when the club’s only two league outings on home soil have been similarly poorly attended. Aston Villa’s visit drew the lowest KCOM crowd for an opening weekend, while only the visit of Bury for a fourth-tier fixture in 2003 was watched by less than the 12,233 who endured a 1-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers a fortnight ago.
Worrying times for a club whose support base has long been at loggerheads with the owners and a situation that Nigel Adkins, the club’s head coach, admits is beyond his control.
“I would love the stadium to be full,” said the 53-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “But I know from being up here a while that there is a certain apathy about the place in terms of attendances
“We had 4,000 in midweek and might have 13,000 against Derby. You want to be in front of 60,000 people. Full houses are the environment you want.
“But I can’t control that. Control the controllables is what I can do. Try and bring that togetherness, and feelgood factor, back to the club.
It is not easy living in Hull. I keep saying to the players, ‘You have to graft in everything you do because people come to watch you – and it doesn’t matter if it is £1, £6 or £39 per ticket like at Sheffield Wednesday – and you have to give them everything’Nigel Adkins
“I have to make sure the players give everything they have got. So the supporters can enjoy that effort and keep working with the players so we improve together.
“It has been highlighted there has been a touch of apathy around the place for a few years. That is a shame but it is what it is. What can we do as a staff? Give everything for the supporters, work long hours and do what we can to win.”
Such is the antipathy felt towards the Allam family by those who choose to spend their Saturday afternoons elsewhere these days that it would most likely take the sale of the club to lure back many of the disaffected.
Adkins, however, can only do his bit on the pitch and that means today getting the better of Lampard’s Derby.
The former England international’s appointment was one of the more surprising in the Football League this summer.
Most recently retired top players have chosen the TV studio over the dugout but Lampard – and Steven Gerrard at Glasgow Rangers – opted to buck that trend, much to the approval of Adkins.
The City chief said: “What they bring is a vast array of experience from playing at the top level. They have also listened to and been on the training ground with many top coaches so they have that to bring to it.
“What I think is good is that both guys are getting their coaching qualifications. In any walk of life, you have to be qualified. A lot of players went into management and failed dismally.”
Lampard returns to the KCOM for the second of his two visits this week with his Derby side sitting sixth with three wins from five matches.
“He came into the room (after Tuesday) and we had a conversation,” added Adkins. “You will find all managers who have been coaches or assistants, they will say. ‘It is not the same’.
“It is totally different because there are a lot of things you have to burden and keep away from everyone else. And deal with a lot of situations. It is full on.”
After three defeats in as many home outings this term, Hull badly want to head into the first international break having given those who do turn out today plenty to cheer.
“It is their prerogative not to come,” said Adkins, when asked about the stayaway fans.
“We have the gates open for training so the supporters can come and watch. We engage with them.
“The price was £6 (in midweek against Derby), which is a decent price for an evening’s entertainment. But a lot don’t come out to watch the Carabao Cup second round. We have to also understand the economic climate we live in.
“It is not easy living in Hull. I keep saying to the players, ‘You have to graft in everything you do because people come to watch you – and it doesn’t matter if it is £1, £6 or £39 per ticket like at Sheffield Wednesday – and you have to give them everything’.
“If you aren’t good enough, that can be the fact of life. But give everything. The players understand they have to graft.
“It is hard-earned cash so everyone has the choice to spend it where they wish. The other night, they might have been saving their money to come on Saturday. They might have been on holiday.
“What I will say is we need that positive nature. Otherwise, the consequences are you drive yourself down and you are surrounded by energy sappers. We don’t want that. Be energised in what you do. That is my role as the leader.
“It is a challenging time. But enjoy the challenge, embrace it. I love being Hull City manager and I love being in the dugout.”