THIS year really could not have started any better for Eric Lichaj.
Having helped Nottingham Forest grind out a hard-fought point at former club Leeds United on New Year’s Day, the full-back netted the first brace of his career in England just a few days later.
The fact that Lichaj’s two goals came against Arsenal in a famous FA Cup triumph for Forest was sweet enough.
But just 24 hours on from being Forest’s Cup hero – and following a light-hearted Twitter campaign designed to persuade wife Kathryn, who had previously said the family could get a dog if he ever scored a hat-trick – the USA international was welcoming a new four-legged friend called Gunner into the family home.
After such a promising start Lichaj could have been forgiven for believing 2018 was going to be a year to remember. Instead, the 29-year-old has been leading something of a dog’s life on the field with his 22 outings since that Cup win for Forest and Hull City having yielded just three wins.
The most recent of those did come a week ago as Nigel Adkins’s side claimed a precious three points at Bolton Wanderers.
We all know in the dressing room that we have to start winning games. Even if we say we have (turned a corner) we have to put it into action. Saying it is easier than doing it.Hull City’s Eric Lichaj
Nevertheless, it was not enough to lift the Tigers out of the relegation zone and Lichaj admits that victory has to be a stepping stone towards a happier final two months of the year.
“I know where we are in the table,” said the 29-year-old to The Yorkshire Post. “We have to pay attention to it.
“We have to get out of the relegation zone in the immediate future and then stay out of it.
“We all know in the dressing room that we have to start winning games.
“To be honest we were due a win with the way we had been playing. We could have more points than we what we have got but everyone was still happy to get a big win.”
Asked if this meant Hull’s campaign had turned a corner Lichaj replied: “Even if we say we have we have to put it into action. Saying it is easier than doing it.”
Backing up victory over Phil Parkinson’s men with another three points today will not be easy even allowing for visitors West Bromwich Albion having taken just a point from their last three games.
Darren Moore’s squad boasts a wealth of Premier League experience including former Tigers midfielder Jake Livermore.
Lichaj, however, insists the past counts for very little.
“Sunderland came down last year with a lot of so-called Premier League players and they are now in League One,” said the full-back.
“It doesn’t matter where the players or team comes from they are in the Championship now – and so are we. We are at home so we need to perform how we can and get a result.”
Lichaj, who became Hull’s first summer signing in June, knows as much about the second tier as most at the KCOM. Not only did he have five straight years in the Championship at Forest, but he also had a loan spell at Leeds in the final few months of the 2010-11 campaign. He has seen plenty of changes along the way.
“When I first played in the Championship there were a lot more long balls,” said the defender. “Each team would always have one and often two big guys to kick towards.
“Some would play out from the back. I remember playing against Swansea in the year they won the play-offs, but they were one of the only teams who did that.
“Now it has changed so much. But you still need a lot of energy, which has always been the case. You also have to be in tip-top shape. It is also a grind of a year with so many games, especially if you are in the cups. It can be a really long season.”
As for those first steps in the second tier at Elland Road under Simon Grayson, Forest’s player of the year in 2016-17 added: “It was a good time and I enjoyed it, even though the club was in the play-offs when I arrived, but just missed out.
“There were some good players, a lot who are still playing now, some in the Premier League. I had Robert Snodgrass in front of me. I just gave him the ball. That was easy.
“He just wanted me to make overlapping runs. Sometimes he found me, sometimes he didn’t. Max Gradel was another in that team. Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson are both still playing now. (Luciano) Becchio was another good player.
“It was a good experience for me. I didn’t play too much, but the time helped set me up for where I am now.”