MIKE PHELAN insists Hull City do not have a problem with playing on home soil despite having already set an unwanted club record in the Premier League.
The Tigers have lost their last four games at the KCOM Stadium, a sequence of results that has helped send the East Riding club hurtling down the table.
Southampton’s visit tomorrow offers a chance to end that wretched run but the insipid manner of Hull’s display a fortnight ago in losing to Stoke City together with Claude Puel’s men heading north on the back of beating Inter Milan in the Europa League has led to the bookmakers making the visitors firm favourites to prevail.
Phelan, however, believes his side can overcome those odds and breathe fresh life into a campaign that has seen just one point claimed from City’s last eight outings.
Asked if the KCOM had become a hard place to play, the Tigers head coach replied: “No, not at all. I think you should relish the chance to play at home and relish the challenge of playing in front of a bit of adversity.
“You have also got to take up the challenge of taking on your opponent, who are not just going to come to Hull and allow us to play how we want to.
“Some of these clubs are seasoned in this division and they probably see a game against us as a chance to progress and pick up points. We have to make sure we make it as difficult as we can for them to make sure we are a Premier League club next season.”
The defeat to Stoke a fortnight ago was watched by Hull’s lowest home Premier League crowd, a reflection of the disenchantment among supporters with the club’s owners that was evident at games even last season in what was ultimately a successful promotion push. Steve Bruce, then at the helm, issued several appeals for fans to put aside any differences with the Allam family.
“Players probably feel a little bit as though nothing is going right and the crowd reacts accordingly at home,” said Phelan when asked if his players had looked edgy and nervous against Mark Hughes’s team.
“But they have to see the bigger picture, that there is a lot of effort there and a lot of time to try and progress this club.
“They have to give their backing to the players that are on the field. I am sure they will but we know from the past year or two years there has always been other issues that seem to overshadow the football side of things.
“We have to be professional enough to look beyond that and be committed.”
City’s worst previous losing run on home soil in the top flight before this season stood at three games – a feat ‘achieved’ in three of the club’s four years in the Premier League.
Phelan, ahead of a month that brings two home games and a trip to fellow strugglers Sunderland, appreciates Hull cannot afford for the current run to continue.
He points to the improvement in the Tigers’ display at Watford last weekend as proof that his players are capable of turning things round after the recent slump in form.
“Time will tell if we have got the quality to stay up but have we got the right character and attitude?” said Phelan, who is hoping to bring in a new goalkeeping coach during the international break following the departure of Gary Walsh to Aston Villa. “I have never doubted that with this group of players.”
City could be boosted tomorrow by the return of Robert Snodgrass. The Scotland international was ruled out for a month after injuring his ankle in the defeat to Stoke but yesterday returned to training.
Having been named in Gordon Strachan’s squad for next week’s World Cup qualifier against England at Wembley, Snodgrass’s possible return would be timely for club and country.
“Robert feels confident enough but he also probably feels confident because he is taking England on next week,” said Phelan.
“Any player understands their international commitments but also their commitments to the club and the rules. First and foremost, (the priority) is to make sure we have a fit Robert Snodgrass for this football club.
“After that, it will take its course. It may be early for him this weekend but I am certain it won’t be by the time next week’s game comes round (at Wembley).”
Keane to succeed: Page 5