Hull City v Gillingham - Relegation memories driving Callum Elder on this year

Callum Elder is on a mission and it is not accomplished yet.

The Australian left-back has won League One before, on loan at Wigan Athletic from Leicester City in 2017-18, but this time with Hull City it is different. This time it is personal.

Elder goes into today’s game at home to in-form Gillingham looking for another three points to hold the Tigers’ position at the top of League One not simply because winning matches and titles is what football is about, but to right the wrong on his CV.

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The 26-year-old was part of the team that collapsed in the second half of 2019-20, Championship play-off contenders on New Year’s Day, bottom at the final whistle.

On their way back?: Callum Elder celebrates with Hull City team-mate Mallik Wilks (right), as the Tigers sit top of League One. Picture: PA

“That is the main motivation for me,” he says unflinchingly. “It’s never settled well with those of us who were here last season and I just hope the fans have been able to see a burning desire to get back into that division because none of us wanted to be here (League One) in the first place.

“We know we’re representing a huge club and we need to take that pressure in a good way and enjoy the fact we’re playing for a club that is really focused on getting back into the next division.

“As a footballer if you lose on a Saturday, your weekend’s ruined. It’s easy to say let it go but it’s tough when it becomes a consistent trend, the build-up of negativity is hard to take.

“We really drew a line under it at the start of the season and it helped that we got off to a really fast start at the top of the league. That shifted the momentum in the changing room and the belief was there from the get-go. We looked across at each other and knew we had the players to achieve success.

Hull City were relegated from the Championship last season. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“We’ve been able to use the disappointment and turn it into a really focused positive because we as players want to take Hull back up into the Championship and we know the importance to the club, the fans and Hull as a city.”

Setting the pace has been the story of late. At Wigan, it was about making a late surge to the title, but Hull have been ahead of the game this year, forcing other teams to play catch-up.

On Tuesday it was Peterborough United’s chance to go level on points from one of two games in hand but they blew it, beaten 3-1 at Blackpool.

“You don’t block it out,” says Elder. “It’s easy to say you focus on yourselves but of course you look at the table and other results. What you do block out is what other teams are thinking or trying to do because we know in the position we’re in, if we commit to what we’re doing and carry on the performances we’re putting out, the results will come.

“It is about what we do in our changing room but when you see other teams around you playing a game in hand you’re going to see how they’re getting on, it’s natural isn’t it?

“That season (at Wigan) we went on an FA Cup run and ended up having five or six catch-up games at one point. We all thought we were having a great season, then we looked at the table and realised we had to win all our catch-up games to get back into the automatic places.

“We need to make sure we’re continually ticking off results and good performances to continue the positive momentum we’ve built over the last couple of months. That’s the similarity – you really need to take each game as it comes and commit physically and mentally to it, then move onto the next one.”

With a run to the quarter-finals of the Football League Trophy too, it has been an extremely demanding season for Hull, but Elder is glad the importance of the matches is unrelenting.

“Originally getting your body to go again and again and again was the difficult bit but I feel like when you get into that rhythm and your body knows a game is only around the corner it naturally gets itself ready,” he says. “After a while it does become mental and your focus and concentration start to fatigue a bit, so it’s important you look after yourself off the pitch when the games are coming so quick and you’re fully focused to go.

“But the lads are in a great place and it helps when you’re in a position like we are at the minute, close to achieving success together with a big reward at the end.

“It’s a privilege to be part of a club competing at this end of the table. A lot of clubs may feel like this season’s run it’s course but for us every game is so important and the lads are really focused in training and working hard. It’s a real team spirit that’s been built over the season and I feel it’s at its best at the minute.”

Having a big squad helps, and will come in handy again today with Josh Magennis and Gavin Whyte on Northern Ireland duty.

“We do have different options we can impose on the game,” says Elder.

“It’s one thing having a size of squad, but it’s another thing having players who can come in and affect the game. It’s good that the manager has the ability to mix things up throughout the game and from game to game.

“With the relentlessness of the schedule there’s almost no time to get a mood on when you’re not in the team because there’s another game two days away and you need to be fully focused on that, so that’s been a positive of the schedule, the whole squad’s had to play its part.”

Coach Grant McCann has options to replace Whyte and Magennis in his front three.

“We’ve moved people into different areas of the front three, particularly Mallik (Wilks), Keane (Lewis-Potter) and Gavin,” he points out. “Dan Crowley has played on the right, the left and as a false nine so we’ve got good options up there. James Scott’s another one (who is versatile).

“It’s nice to see people like Tom Eaves, James Scott, Dan Crowley and Ahmed Salam champing at the bit to play.”

And in Elder’s case, with a real point to prove.

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