Middlesbrough v Hull City: Grant McCann has laid solid platform as Tigers start to look upwards

Grant McCann.
Grant McCann.
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FEW can accuse Grant McCann of not being a dealer in hope in his time in the Broad Acres at both Hull City and Doncaster Rovers.

The Northern Irishman’s claim upon being handed the reins at the Keepmoat Stadium in the summer of 2018 that Rovers – fresh from a 2017-18 campaign which saw the club finish in an underwhelming 15th spot in League One and Darren Ferguson leave in the close season – would ‘aim for the stars’ was viewed as a wildly optimistic one by many.

An invigorating season which saw Rovers go within one game of achieving a shot at promotion at Wembley made any cynics eat a fair portion of humble pie.

Equally, there were those who scoffed when McCann spoke of Hull possessing the quality to compete at the top end of the Championship when he was unveiled as Tigers chief in June.

An encouraging first third to the season – in marked comparison to the past two campaigns when Hull’s opening was alarming and atrocious in equal measure – has similarly made any doubters think again.

It would be foolish to disregard McCann, who has shown strength of character and displayed fire in his belly ever since he was painfully jettisoned by West Ham as a young player.

It also stood him in good stead after his sacking from the club where he was considered as a playing legend at Peterborough United in February 2018 with Posh positioned just six points from the play-offs.

Incidentally, six points is the current gap between his Hull City side and the top-six. Ahead of the frenetic run to the end of the calendar year, it is peanuts.

On the corresponding weekend last year, Hull lost 2-0 at home to Nottingham Forest and were ensconced in the relegation zone and with a grim winter seemingly in prospect – only for the East Yorkshire outfit to transform their fortunes in eye-catching fashion and propel themselves to play-off candidates by the start of 2019.

The base that Hull has built this time around is far firmer. Plans are being made for the transfer window and the club head into a key run of fixtures – starting at Middlesbrough tomorrow – in comparatively rude health with decent options and high spirits.

McCann, whose side are chasing a fourth away victory in five matches tomorrow, said: “It is a very important period. Leading into Boxing Day, we have got eight games. That is eight games left of the second phase of 12 games.

“We have started this phase very well with nine points from 12; promotion form.

“If we can do that again over the next eight games, then we will put ourselves in a really good position.

“I am going to need the whole squad, there is no question about that. I have spoken to the group about that.

“One thing we have not got is sulkers or people feeling down and not training properly because they are not in the team.

“We have got unbelievable characters. Not an inch of problems for me.”

Off the pitch, Hull are aiming to get their ducks in a row regarding New Year recruitment, with the club also in discussions with the key trio of Jarrod Bowen, Kamil Grosicki and Jordy de Wijs about new deals.

While it remains to be seen whether any of the three sign on the dotted line, it is a proactive development all the same – more especially given that Hull have been noticeably tardy and reticent in some transfer windows of yore.

McCann added: “We have started the process. One thing that has been really nice is to have board meetings and technical meetings once every three or four weeks just to outline where we are and what we need. The process has been brilliant. Myself, Ehab (Allam – vice chairman), David (Beeby) and Lee (Darnbrough) are speaking about everything.

“I think there will be (money to spend). Ehab has been really clear in the meetings that there will be.

“We would prefer our own players and 100 per cent he will back us on that. I do not think it needs an overhaul. We are really pleased with the group, but there are one or two areas where we feel we might be a little bit light.

“We do feel there are one or two areas where we feel like we can add to the group, just to give us that extra push. Those areas will stay between me, my coaching staff and the owners.

“I do not think it needs a lot. I have never been about money as a manager. I would rather make sure we concentrate on what we’ve got and try to add to it with people who are hungry, determined and have a point to prove at this level. That is what I am about as a manager.”

Hull face a side tomorrow in Middlesbrough who accompanied them out of the top flight in 2016-17. While the Tigers followed a policy of retrenchment, Boro spent heavily in their quest to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking and the move backfired with the Teessiders now picking up the pieces.

Hull’s record on Teesside – 19 losses recorded in 21 league trips since 1955 and just one win – is legion among those amber and black persuasion. But given the ailing fortunes of Boro, with all clearly not well at the Riverside, tomorrow represents a craven opportunity for the visitors to end their painful sequence.

Not that McCann, a streetwise and canny operator who has never been prone to chicken-counting, is getting ahead of himself. “You look at Middlesbrough’s team and they have got people like Britt Assombalonga, who I played with at Peterborough,” the Tigers chief said.

“He is one of the best forwards in this league and he has shown that over the last three years.

“Any team can hurt you if you are not on your game in this league.

“That is what we have got to guard against.

“I expect to face a Middlesbrough team with confidence because of their last performance at QPR.

“Having watched it back they played very well, possibly should have won the game.

“By all accounts, people keep telling me that Hull City has been horrendous over the years.

“What is it?

“Nineteen defeats in 21 games. The tide has got to turn some time hasn’t it?”