Hull City v Portsmouth - ‘Warrior’ Richie Smallwood targets hat-trick of promotions

DURING his career so far, Hull City captain Richie Smallwood has been bestowed with several interesting monikers.

Hull City's Hakeeb Adelakun celebrates with team-mate Richard Smallwoo. Picture: PA.

His time at hometown club Middlesbrough saw him referred to as ‘The Dormanstown Destroyer’ in homage to his industrious tough-tackling qualities in midfield.

At his last place of work in Blackburn Rovers, his title was a bit rather more regal as Rovers supporters gushingly referred to him as ‘The King of Ewood’ – in reference to his role as the only ever-present member of the line-up which secured an instant promotion back to the Championship in 2017-18.

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Approaching his thirtieth birthday later this month and with the captain’s armband on his shoulder at his current club, Smallwood is now entrusted with helping Hull return to the second tier at the first time of asking this season.

It is a responsibility which sits well with the Teessider, who is seeking his third promotion to the second level after also going up with Rotherham United in 2013-14 – having scored a key penalty for the Millers in their play-off final shoot-out victory over Leyton Orient at Wembley.

Smallwood’s mettle and that of his current team-mates will be seriously tested again this evening in their top-of-the-table game with Portsmouth, moreso given that Hull head into it on the back of two successive defeats and a three-match winless streak – their longest in League One this term.

It is situations like this on cold December nights under the lights where you are assigned with a character examination and doing the hard unheralded yards for which proper professionals such as Smallwood are made for.

If others get the plaudits, so be it. As long as he and his team-mates prevail.

Smallwood, famously described as a ‘warrior’ by Grant McCann in the summer – having previously been referred to as a ‘soldier’ by his ex-Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray for the way he ‘went to war every week’ during his time in Lancashire – said: “It is not really difficult to work out I want to get more promotions on my CV after getting promoted at my past two clubs.

“I want to make it a hat-trick this year and go to next year full of hope and to hopefully kick on.

“People can say what they want about me really, but as long as I am working as hard as I am in the week and on a match-day, if selected and keep doing the job for the team, that is what makes me most happy.”

On tonight’s televised encounter against a strong Pompey side who possess the second best away record in the division behind Hull, Smallwood commented matter-of-factly: “We know it is not going to be easy.

“They are probably one of the hardest teams to play against and probably the most organised and hard-working.

“We have to match that first and foremost and then show our quality in the final third.

“We need to get back to winning football matches if we are going to have any success.”

Victory tonight would be substantive on many levels for Hull, not least from a psychological perspective.

After a desperate first half of 2020 which saw them plunge into freefall and suffer a pitiful relegation, the Tigers’ fightback has been stirring. Should they win this evening, they will be the divisional leaders for Christmas.

On that prospect, boss McCann, who will give key midfielder George Honeyman (hamstring) as much time as possible to prove his fitness ahead of tonight, said: “What I would say is that it is nice to be there. Does it mean anything at this stage? No. It matters where you are in May.

“But it is nice to be where we are, we are there to be shot at and everyone is trying to catch us up and take us off pole position.

“It (victory) would put us in a very good place. If someone said at the start of the season we could be five points clear of Portsmouth at the top with a game in hand, I am sure everyone would have snapped their hand off.

“It has been a good start, but that’s all. We have got a very good group of players led by Richie. No-one gets high or too low.”

Last six games: Hull DWDDLL; Portsmouth WLWWWD.

Referee: M Salisbury (Lancashire).

Last time: Hull 1 Portsmouth 0, September 17, 2011; Championship.

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