Hull City and Middlesbrough braced for fight to avoid drop

Hull City head coach Marco Silva.
Hull City head coach Marco Silva.
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AHEAD of a week that could prove pivotal in deciding the relegation fate of Yorkshire’s two Premier League representatives, Marco Silva insists Hull City have improved as a team since Robert Snodgrass was sold to fund a January overhaul of the squad.

The Tigers host West Ham United today and then Middlesbrough on Wednesday before rounding off a key eight days with a trip to Manchester City.

Boro, meanwhile, travel to Swansea City tomorrow and then host Burnley either side of that all White Rose clash at the KCOM Stadium.

There is an argument to suggest Hull must win both home assignments, while the Teessiders – whose schedule takes on a daunting look once the visit of the Clarets is out of the way – need a minimum seven points if hopes of avoiding the drop are to remain realistic.

Much will depend on how their rivals fare, of course, but with both clubs being more than one victory from getting out of the dropzone, time is clearly of the essence if an instant return to the Championship is to be avoided.

Today, therefore, means City must stop Snodgrass, still the club’s top scorer with nine goals despite leaving for West Ham in a £10.2m deal more than two months ago. “It was not an easy decision for the club,” said the Portuguese about the departure of the Scot. “We tried to keep our best players but that wasn’t easy because the player wanted to leave.

“Snodgrass wanted to leave. He did good things for this club but he wanted to find a new goal for his career. You respect that. But I want our focus and the focus of our supporters to be on our team.”

The departure of Snodgrass and Jake Livermore to West Brom for a combined £20.2m allowed Silva to bring in seven new faces during the January window.

He added: “It is true (results have been better since January). No-one wins alone. Of course, if you have good players with good skills in all the positions then it is better.

“When you then put good organisation in the squad, it is better for any coach. But no-one wins alone.

“We lost our best scorer and up until he left he did very good work for the club. But after he has left, I have tried to find the best solutions for the squad.

“Since this moment the club has improved in all the things, improved goals scored, goals conceded and our position in the table. But we need more because until now it is not enough.”

Hull head into this key week without Tom Huddlestone, who starts a three-game ban after the appeal against his red card at Everton failed.

Either David Meyler or Markus Henriksen are expected to deputise with Hull looking to extend their unbeaten home record of five wins and one draw since Silva’s arrival.

“This week I have been clear that this is a decisive game for us and our players feel comfortable with the situation,” added the Tigers head coach. “This is a decisive game because now we have nine games left and they are all decisive. Each one is one more chance for us to take points.

“Two (home) wins would be fantastic but, first, we must think about this game only. Our opponent will come here to change their situation.

“West Ham are a quality team and we need to put our focus into this game only.”

Boro will be keeping a close eye on events at Hull as either a draw or win for the Hammers will mean three points down at the Liberty Stadium will be enough to move above Silva’s side in the table.

Agnew took the reins on an interim basis following Aitor Karanka’s dismissal a little over a fortnight ago.

The 51-year-old, a former assistant to Steve Bruce at Hull, oversaw a 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United in Boro’s last game before the international break.

A trip to Swansea, though, offers a big opportunity, as victory will cut the gap between the two clubs to just two points with Agnew’s man having a game in hand. Defeat, however, and it will be a huge ask to rein in the Welsh club during the run-in.

“It is a challenge for us,” said Agnew. “Swansea are obviously above the line, so it is a big game. It is a great challenge and we are all looking forward to it.”

Boro’s last league win came against the Welsh club in mid-December, two goals from Alvaro Negredo helping seal a 3-0 win.

“It feels a long time ago,” added Agnew. “But it was a good performance and a good win.”

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