ESCAPING the often harsh English winter for a warm-weather training camp, as Hull City will do later this week, has become an accepted practice in the Premier League.
A gap in the schedule, invariably caused by being knocked out of the FA Cup, is all most top-flight managers need as excuse to get away and recharge the batteries amid warmer climes.
The Tigers head to Portugal this Wednesday as head coach Marco Silva starts his preparations for a six-game run that is likely to go a long way towards deciding the East Yorkshire club’s fate in the fight against relegation.
Home games against Burnley, Swansea City, West Ham United and Middlesbrough feature in this potentially season-defining run of fixtures that also includes trips to Leicester City and Everton.
As with the temperatures that Silva and his players will enjoy during those seven days on the Algarve, things are hotting up nicely for a City side that looks increasingly capable of escaping the drop.
It will not be easy, as others at the bottom are also displaying signs of life. But, under Silva, Hull have improved markedly and the methodical nature of the 39-year-old means a week away on the training pitch with his players is likely to yield further benefits.
“He has been brilliant since he came in,” said defender Harry Maguire when asked about the Portuguese’s methods. “I think we needed fine-tuning, as under Mike Phelan we were playing some really good football, but not getting the results.
“We were conceding sloppy goals, but he has come in and is very organised, very thorough in what he does. He works tirelessly on the opposition and comes up with good game plans.
“Maybe three months ago, we would have gone to places like Arsenal and you would have heard it would be an easy victory.
“Now, though, everyone (at Arsenal) was saying (beforehand) they would have to play well to beat us.
“That is the change and we now have a lot of belief in this squad that we can stay in this league.”
Judging by the manner of Hull’s display in their controversial defeat to Arsenal, Silva will not have to worry about one traditional benefit of a warm-weather training camp at this time of year, namely, the need to integrate a host of new faces into the squad.
Hull’s signings in the January transfer window already look very much at home. All of Silva’s ‘magnificent seven’ featured at the Emirates Stadium and their contribution to a hugely enterprising display underlined just why the Hull chief was so desperate to freshen up his squad, even if that meant sacrificing Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass to raise the necessary funds for the overhaul.
Lazar Markovic, a one-time £20m signing by Liverpool, was the pick of those January arrivals against the Gunners, his forceful running down the right flank and guile on the ball creating three excellent chances for Oumar Niasse.
The Senegalese striker may not have been able to capitalise on this excellent service, nor the first-half headed chance provided by Kamil Grosicki from the other flank.
But Niasse, too, displayed the ability and appetite that Hull will need to get out of trouble. That much was evident even in the closing stages, as the Everton loanee hassled and harried the Arsenal backline on his own to such an extent that the ball was eventually hacked into touch.
Alfred N’Diaye, another whose career appeared to be going nowhere fast before arriving at the KCOM from Villarreal on loan, is proving a revelation.
His ability to bring together the various attacking facets that Silva has worked so hard to introduce is a major plus, especially as this is helping get the best out of Tom Huddlestone.
Despite some sloppy play early on, the former England international was again in fine form. His ability to release both Grosicki and Markovic out wide means Hull are able to hit teams on the break with devastating effect.
This made the Gunners, even when leading through Alexis Sanchez’s controversial 34th- minute opener, visibly uneasy.
Theo Walcott best illustrated this in the second half when clashing with Maguire, who seemed more amused than annoyed when the diminutive Arsenal man squared up to the 6ft 2ins defender after throwing a tantrum over not being awarded a corner.
Just how anyone in red could complain about the officials against Hull is a mystery. Not only did Sanchez’s opener go in off his hand, but Kieran Gibbs was shown just a yellow card for cynically flattening Markovic as the last defender.
Had Mark Clattenburg got both calls right, Arsenal would have had to play the final half-hour with 10 men and the score level at 0-0.
As it was, Sanchez adding a second in stoppage-time from the penalty spot – after, irony of all ironies, Sam Clucas was dismissed for handling a header from Lucas Perez – means Hull head to Portugal on the back of a 10th defeat in their last 11 league games on the road.
Silva will be hoping an injection of vitamin D this week can be the perfect pick-me-up for the challenges that lay ahead.