Depleted Hull City daring to dream of FA Cup upset

Positive-thinking: Nigel Adkins takes his Hull side to Chelsea  devoid of more than a dozen players through suspension, cup ties or injury. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Positive-thinking: Nigel Adkins takes his Hull side to Chelsea devoid of more than a dozen players through suspension, cup ties or injury. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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THE last time Nigel Adkins took a team to Stamford Bridge, he was sacked just 48 hours later.

To this day, his dismissal by Southampton in January, 2013, is viewed on the south coast as incredibly harsh.

Not only had the Birkenhead-born former goalkeeper led the Saints to back-to-back promotions in the previous two seasons, but the trip to Chelsea had brought a 2-2 draw to leave his side sitting 15th in the table.

Adkins, however, is not a man to dwell on the past. Instead, tomorrow night’s first return to SW6 is a time to look forward with not even the likelihood of Hull City having to tackle the reigning Premier League champions with a makeshift defence able to dampen his excitement.

“I have always loved the FA Cup,” said the 52-year-old ahead of a fifth round tie that will be shown live by BT Sport. “As a young kid, you remember watching the final on a black and white telly.

“Then you head off into the street (afterwards) to go and play football. I used to play Subbuteo all the time and the dream was, ‘One day I want to lift the FA Cup’.

Add to that the others out, and we have probably got 12 on the injury list. So, it is a challenging scenario that we face. But this is the FA Cup and anything is possible.

Nigel Adkins

“You don’t get anywhere near it but you can always dream. Now, here we are in the fifth round. It is going to be a tough game, we know that. But what a challenge to take on, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.”

City being paired with Antonio Conte’s champions in the fifth round immediately meant Adkins was going to have selection problems.

Michael Hector, Fikayo Tomori and Ola Aina are on loan from the Blues, so unable to play. The defensive trio have been involved in all but a handful of Tigers games this season so their absence will be keenly felt.

Adding to Adkins’s problems is Michael Dawson, the defender who has been out with a groin injury since his deadline day move to Nottingham Forest was blocked by Hull.

The club captain trained on Wednesday for the first time but had to sit out yesterday’s session. If Dawson misses out, youngster Josh Clackstone could come in to partner Angus MacDonald in the centre with David Meyler slotting in at right-back.

“We have got to believe it is possible,” added the Tigers chief, whose side are back in league action next Tuesday at Middlesbrough. “We need the magic of the Cup – in fact, we need a lot of magic! – because, let’s face it, Chelsea are a top side.

“I am sure they will rotate but, straight away, we have four players out. The three Chelsea lads can’t play, while Seb Larsson is suspended for us (after collecting 10 bookings). A Swedish international and a midfield dynamo for us, he has been great.

“Add to that the others out, and we have probably got 12 on the injury list. So, it is a challenging scenario that we face. But this is the FA Cup and anything is possible.”

The fallout from Adkins’s last visit to Chelsea may not be one to remember with any fondness. But his memories of a previous Cup tie at the Bridge are altogether more positive, even if the hosts prevailed in the end.

It came a little over 13 years ago with Scunthorpe United, where Adkins at the time was employed as the club physio.

“Brian Laws was the manager when we took on Chelsea,” he recalls. “Jose Mourinho was in charge and Scunny actually went in front, Paul Hayes scored a wonderful goal, and for half an hour the magic of the FA Cup (was alive) and the Scunthorpe supporters were jumping up and down.

“Everyone had a smile on their faces. But, obviously, the class of the Chelsea team shone through in the end and they won the game. But it was still a great experience for everyone and one that we all enjoyed.”

The glamour tie at a stadium where Hull have never won in 22 visits comes at the end of a week that has seen Ryan Mason call time on his career as a result of the fractured skull he suffered against Chelsea last season.

A horrific clash of heads with Gary Cahill left Mason requiring emergency surgery. The club’s record signing was left with 14 metal plates on the right side of his skull and a scar that required 42 staples.

Mason had hoped to resume his career but, instead, retired at the age of just 26 on doctors’ advice. He met the City squad on Tuesday to say his farewells.

“I had only known Ryan a short time,” added Adkins about the £13m signing from Tottenham Hotspur. “But I saw from the way he trained and applied himself, that he was doing everything he could to get back training.

“It is such a shame that, unfortunately, he has had to make this decision on good medical advice. He has now got another chapter of his life to look forward to.

“Ryan came in (to the club), obviously addressed all the players and told them the very sad news. It was emotional.

“The words he spoke are private words. But they were very, very inspirational and, hopefully, the players that are still playing now can carry them forward for the rest of their career because it was really, really good.”