Hull City v Sheffield Wednesday – Harmonious dressing room drives Tigers’ revival

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THE eight-game unbeaten run is a clue. So too are the Manager of the Month and Player of the Month awards currently residing at Hull City.

But for midfielder Kevin Stewart perhaps the biggest indication that life at the Tigers is on the up comes via the dressing room.

“There are a lot less arguments than last season,” said the £4m signing from Liverpool in a matter-of-fact fashion to The Yorkshire Post. “The dressing room was a little bit disjointed. Not through anyone’s fault, everyone was trying to do their best and trying to win.

“But there is a lot of emotion going around when you are losing. People were trying to do their best, but it was hard at times.

“People did not quite understand each other. But now there is a lot more understanding in terms of our roles and also understanding each other. That makes it a lot easier.”

Hull’s results since the start of December – and their performances since October – back up Stewart’s assertion that a happy camp is a more successful camp.

Confident: Hull City's Kevin Stewart, right.

Confident: Hull City's Kevin Stewart, right.

Taking 20 points from a possible 24 has transformed not only the season, but also a club that had forgotten how to smile.

Relegation is never easy, but Hull’s demotion from the Premier League in 2017 came amid a fallout between owners and supporters so toxic that an air of disillusionment descended on the KCOM Stadium that went way beyond mere results.

The Allam family are still hoping to sell and a deal agreed in principle with a group fronted by former chairman Paul Duffen remains on the table after stalling late last year.

But Thursday’s visit to the club’s Cottingham training ground by chairman Assem Allam and vice-chairman Ehab to enjoy lunch with head coach Nigel Adkins was a hark back to happier days.

Other teams will have checked the scores after our last two games and will have thought, ‘This can’t be a coincidence or luck’. It was definitely a statement we put out there.

Hull City midfielder Kevin Stewart

Before the attempts to rebrand as ‘Hull Tigers’ in 2014 that drove a wedge between the club’s hierarchy and their fan base was a time when a sighting of Assem Allam enjoying lunch with Steve Bruce was taken as a sign that a big money transfer was imminent.

No such development is expected this time around although this week’s visit did coincide with an official statement from vice-chairman Ehab Allam stressing that none of the club’s “key” talents would be leaving in January.

Instead, it continued, Hull are working closely with Adkins to “give us a great opportunity to close the gap to the top six and end the season on a high”.

With Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen, the latter named yesterday as the Championship’s Player of the Month for December, having played such an integral part in the recent upturn in form, confirmation that neither is going anywhere was a welcome one.

TOP MAN: Jarrod Nowen with his Championship Player of the Month award. Picture courtesy of EFL.

TOP MAN: Jarrod Nowen with his Championship Player of the Month award. Picture courtesy of EFL.

Stewart, for his part, is not willing to talk play-offs just yet, but he does admit recent results such as the 6-0 hammering meted out to Bolton Wanderers on New Year’s Day means others are being forced to look afresh at the Tigers.

“After beating Leeds (on December 29) we had to back that up,” said the Enfield-born midfielder, who moved to Hull during the summer of 2017. “There was no point beating Leeds only to then lose against Bolton or even draw.

“We had to show Leeds was not just a fluke, and that we could do it week-in and week-out. Afterwards everyone was happy we had done that.

“Other teams will have checked the scores after our last two games and will have thought, ‘This can’t be a coincidence or luck’. It was definitely a statement we put out there.”

This afternoon brings Hull up against Sheffield Wednesday, another Yorkshire club whose revival in form over recent weeks has fired talk of a possible late dash for the play-offs.

Adkins is looking for his side to lay down another marker and Stewart is full of praise for the Birkenhead-born Tigers chief.

“He came in with standards,” added the one-time Tottenham Hotspur junior. “He has kept to them and his ideas through thick and thin.

“Now he is seeing the rewards from that. What he does is put the responsibility on the players quite a lot. If we are late he will not penalise us so much. But he expects us to sort it out. He wants us to take responsibility – just like on the pitch.”

Hull’s improvement over recent weeks has been mirrored on a personal level by Stewart, who had a difficult first season at the KCOM.

He made just 10 starts, the last of which came in a truly desperate 1-0 loss at Bolton that ensured 2018 began with a shudder for the Tigers.

Seb Larsson, Markus Henriksen and David Meyler were all preferred to Stewart, who managed just 110 minutes of action in the final four months of the campaign. Adkins even turned to youngster Daniel Batty on the final day rather than the former Liverpool man.

The expectation that accompanies a move from a production line as renowned as the one at Anfield seemed to weigh heavy, but Stewart’s form has since started to change a few minds.

“I feel to be in a good place,” said the 25-year-old. “I am playing now so have got an opportunity to show that I have progressed – and, as a team, that we have moved forward.

“I feel to have a rhythm. Having a spell of games is really important. Times when you are just coming on here and there, those are hard. But now I am looking forward.”