Hull wary of Reds’ potency from all positions

Hull City's Tom Huddlestone
Hull City's Tom Huddlestone
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It is rare for a footballer to get the chance to square up to one of his idols.

Usually, heroes are from yesteryear, superstar footballers who left young boys in thrall at the majesty of their technique.

Marcel Desailly and Eric Cantona were two such players who had Tom Huddlestone under their spell.

But the third member of the triumvirate of idols that have inspired the afro-haired Hull City midfielder is of the current generation, and rolls into East Yorkshire tomorrow with his Liverpool team-mates.

“Week-in, week-out in the Premier League you’re going to face top-class players and Steven Gerrard has been one of those for the last 15 years,” said Huddlestone of a man he has admired since he first watched him play.

“Growing up, Gerrard, Cantona and Desailly were my three idols.

“I was fairly young when Cantona first went to Man Utd.

“It was what he did for English football that inspired me. I don’t think United would be the club they are today without his influence.

“Growing up, I supported Chelsea, so that’s why Desailly – having won the World Cup and various European trophies with Milan – was an easy idol.

“But Gerrard has got everything. He’s quick, he can head the ball, tackle, he’s one of the best passers around and he scores goals.

“There’s been times when he’s single-handedly won games for Liverpool in the League and in Europe.

“He’s been a great captain and role model for any player growing up.”

So as Huddlestone renews acquaintances with a man he has played alongside in an England shirt, does he have any idea how to stop Liverpool’s talisman?

“Man-mark him with three players,” quipped Huddlestone.

If only. Hull’s playmaker knows as well as anyone that Liverpool do not just carry the threat of one dynamic midfielder.

Brendan Rodgers’s in-form team have potency all over the field, particularly in strike-pairing Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

“You can’t highlight one or two players,” said Huddlestone.

“They’ve got an unbelievable team full of internationals.

“It’s going to be difficult, but if we stick to the game plan the manager gives us, hopefully it’ll work well.

“Playing against a player like Gerrard probably keeps you more concentrated and knowing in yourself that you’ve got to perform an extra five or 10 per cent better than you would against anybody else.

“You’ve got to treat it as a normal opponent as much as possible.”

Huddlestone is not blinded by his admiration for Gerrard; he appreciates the need to strike a balance between respecting his opponent and getting under his skin.

Hull need their midfielder, who is the epitome of calm under pressure, more than ever after the first strains in the Tigers’ rekindled romance with the Premier League have started to show.

Three weeks ago they sat handsomely in mid-table, before a heavy defeat at Southampton and a damaging loss at home to Crystal Palace left them looking over their shoulder for the first time.

“Hopefully, collectively, we all do our job better than we have done recently,” added Huddlestone.

“We’re under no illusions about how big a test tomorrow will be.

“You just have to have the belief in yourself and your team-mates that you can go out and put a good performance on and do our job to the best of our abilities.”

Asked if the mood had been affected by the recent dip, Huddlestone replied: “Not really. We knew Southampton was going to be difficult with the way they’d started.

“I think it was bad timing with the international break after that and we couldn’t get it out of our system in the Palace game.

“It was tough to take but the lads have worked hard this week and we’re focused on putting it right as soon as possible.

“The manager spoke after the Palace game and then on the training pitch at the start of the week.

“We have started the season fairly well. Hopefully, it’s just a slip and not a complete dip in form. We’ve got a chance to put it right and get it out of our system.

“Having lost two games, we don’t want it to be three and then have to go to the Emirates on Wednesday to play Arsenal. We need to get some form of result tomorrow.”

The Crystal Palace result aside, Hull can be rightly proud of how they have acquitted themselves on their return to the Premier League.

Steve Bruce’s side have been strong at home against teams they would hope to take points from.

But Liverpool are the first of the title contenders to head to the KC Stadium, and they will be mindful of how Hull handled themselves when visiting Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season.

Granted, Hull did not score a goal or claim a point, but equally, they did not roll over and let their vaunted opponents set the tone.

“Being underdogs has helped us so far this season, so hopefully Sunday will be no different,” said the four-time England player.

“When teams are more open against us, attacking-wise that’s when we’re at our best.

“Hopefully Liverpool will attack us and it’ll leave a few more gaps we can try to exploit.”

“We know we have to stay concentrated for 90 minutes. In the Manchester City game we played well and created chances but they got two late goals.

“I think we’ve just got to stick to the game plan and hopefully put one of our chances away.”

Therein lies the major challenge for Bruce’s men – scoring goals.

While Liverpool are blessed with Suarez and Sturridge, Hull’s options are rather more limited with Danny Graham yet to find the target and their creative spark Sone Aluko sidelined through injury.

Huddlestone said: “I think everybody, from strikers to defenders at set-pieces, needs to do their bit and take the load off our strikers.

“Robbie Brady has got most of our goals and he’s been missing for a few weeks.

“It’s been disappointing as a team on that front but, hopefully, everybody can start chipping in.”