Hull City v Fleetwood Town - Tigers stay on message despite blackout
Hull City host Fleetwood Town knowing five wins from their five remaining games will return them to the Championship after a season away, almost certainly as champions.
It would be a surprise if things were quite that simple, but manager Grant McCann’s approach is.
All season long he has insisted his players do not look beyond the next game and their own performances. He practices what he preaches, coming off social media recently to keep his focus.
“It’s a very emotional sport, football – you win one game and you’re the best team in the world, you lose one and everyone hates you,” claims the Northern Irishman.
“I made a conscious decision to come off social media two or three months ago and it’s probably the best thing I’ve done, really, because it’s just a dark, dark place. What other people think of us we can’t control. All we can think about is us. We know when we’re right we’ll give most teams in this division a good game.”
On the face of it, it is not the next game but the one after which is the big one. Fleetwood are 13th in League One, a small club playing out of a stadium which holds fewer than 6,000 spectators.
On Tuesday, the visitors are third-placed Sunderland, who recently spent a decade in the Premier League, have a home ground with a capacity of 49,000 and players of the calibre of Aiden McGeady.
The beauty of League One, though, is both pose equal threats to a team not properly switched on. Fleetwood inflicted Hull’s first league defeat this season, a 4-1 beating live on television.
“This is a tough league and if you’re not on it, you can lose,” cautions McCann. “We’ve seen that at times this season where we’ve not performed.
“At this time, the boys have got a real focus, a real determination to go into the game, affect the match and get a result.
“The next one’s the most important for us and that’s all we’re focused on this week, Fleetwood. It’s another tough game for us, a team that’s unbeaten in their last four away from home, winning three, conceding one.”
It will be the fourth meeting between the sides this season but the first since former Huddersfield Town, Leeds United and Bradford City manager Simon Grayson succeeded Joey Barton.
“They’re playing in a different style, different philosophy, different manager, different ideas,” says McCann, whose side won the two cup ties.
“We’ve worked on them and spoken about them this week and we hopefully go into the game knowing about them but also focussing on what we want to do in the game.
“They’ve done well since Simon’s come in. They’ve recruited well and seem to have a nice blend of experience and youth but we’ll focus predominantly on us.”
There is good news on the horizon for Hull, who had two key players back in training this week, albeit too soon to face Fleetwood.
“We’ve had Richie Smallwood and Reece Burke back out on the grass this week,” says McCann. “This game will probably come too quickly for them but maybe looking ahead to Sunderland they could be available.”
It was a rare slip in his focus before returning to his theme: “The next game, I know I keep saying it and I know I sound boring, but we have to approach it with a real calmness about us and go and see if we can produce another good performance.”
Nobody will complain of boredom if Hull walk off with the title.
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