FOR some footballers, the prospect of taking on the reigning Premier League champions on Boxing Day would be enough to make Christmas lunch that little bit harder to digest.
Jake Livermore, however, insists that from the moment the festive fixtures were published back in the summer, everyone at Hull City has been eagerly looking forward to tackling Manchester United at the KC Stadium in what promises to be a post-Christmas cracker.
“Playing in big games like this is what we work all week for,” insisted the Tigers’ midfielder ahead of the televised clash. “In the Premier League, every week is a big one, but to play against the likes of Manchester United is great.
“We don’t fear anyone at the minute and, hopefully, we can pick up three points.
“I don’t suppose Manchester United will be eating their Christmas pudding the day before expecting an easy ride against us. And we will certainly not give them one, that’s for sure.”
In any other seasons, Livermore’s words might sound like bravado. It is, after all, almost 40 years since Hull last beat the Red Devils, while all four of the clubs’ previous meetings in the Premier League ended in defeat for the Yorkshire outfit.
This time around, however, Hull’s home form which has seen them collect 15 points from eight games at the KC – losing just once – will surely leave David Moyes’s men in wary mood.
That United, who sit just four places above Hull in the table, have endured their own troubles in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era only adds to the sense of optimism swirling around the KC this festive season.
Livermore added: “Manchester United are a great side, but every team is beatable. We went up to Newcastle, which is no easy to place to go, and got a win.
“We gave a good account of ourselves at Arsenal and Manchester City, too. We can go places and have nothing to fear because we have shown we can compete.
“The Liverpool game showed that (when Hull triumphed 3-1). The lads were brilliant from start to finish and fully deserved that win.”
Hull head into Christmas on the back of an encouraging December that has brought just one defeat – a 2-0 loss at Arsenal – in five league outings.
Liverpool slid to defeat at the KC, while the trips to Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion both ended in 1-1 draws.
It means Hull, with five wins and 20 points from 17 outings, are a little ahead of schedule in the path to Premier League survival that Steve Bruce laid out before a ball had been kicked in August.
Livermore, who netted the Tigers’ goal at The Hawthorns, said: “In training, we had been working on the need to start from a solid base and then spring out quickly.
“I thought Danny Graham was brilliant, his hold-up play for my goal in particular. On a personal note it is great for me to be adding goals to the team now.
“It is something I should do more of. I’ve been limited previously in my career for how managers have wanted me to play.
“It is great to come here under Steve Bruce and he gives me that freedom and confidence to get forward. All he says is as long as I get back, go for it.”
As for Hull being denied all three points at West Brom by Matej Vydra’s late equaliser for the hosts, Livermore said: “Perhaps before the game if you had said we would go there and get a point, then maybe we would have been satisfied.
“But the way the game went, particularly in terms of our performance in the first half, we believe we should have got three points.”
United, eighth in the table under Moyes, could be on course for the worst performance by a defending champion since 1995-96 when Blackburn Rovers finished seventh just 12 months after lifting the title.
But there is little doubt that Boxing Day will be a highlight in the Hull sporting calendar.
It will also be a stiff test of the defensive resolve that has seen Hull concede just three goals on home soil this season, the lowest tally in the Premier League.
Curtis Davies, a £2.2m import last summer, has been a major factor in that defensive resolve and the former Birmingham City defender’s form has alerted a number of clubs.
Over the weekend, Everton were linked with a £6m bid, but Bruce is adamant that the Tigers will be holding on to their best players come the January transfer window.
He said: “There is going to be speculation about any player that is doing well and Curtis is doing well. But I don’t even have to bother with my owner with £6m. We don’t want to lose our good players and that wouldn’t even tempt us.
“I wouldn’t even have to ask the question on it. I’m not naive enough to think every player hasn’t got a price, but not at that sort of money.”
Bruce’s work in the summer transfer window has played a major part in Hull’s impressive return to the Premier League, with the likes of Tom Huddlestone (£5m), Allan McGregor (£1.8m), Yannick Sagbo (£1.5m) all having proved excellent value for money.
Come January, the Hull chief would like to make “one or two” additions while there could be a couple of fringe players on the way out.
Blackburn Rovers have already had a £350,000 bid rejected for Tom Cairney, who has attracted the interested of several Championship clubs while on loan at Ewood Park.
Cameron Stewart and Aaron Mclean are also expected to leave.