Tigers’ encounter with Clarets ‘massive,’ admits Harper

WHEN Alexis Sanchez skipped round Steve Harper to roll Arsenal’s third goal into the net in first-half stoppage-time on Monday night, it was not just Hull City’s prized advantage of a superior goal difference that appeared in danger.

Stephen Quinn strikes as Hull win the second half against Arsenal (Picture: Simon Hulme).

The sense of belief engendered by back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and Liverpool also seemed under threat, something that could have been fatal considering struggling Burnley are due at the KC Stadium on Saturday for what has to be the Tigers’ biggest game since returning to the Premier League.

Hull’s second-half rally, therefore, came as a massive relief to not only Steve Bruce but Steve Harper, the veteran goalkeeper who recently became the oldest player in Hull’s history.

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He is is no doubt as to the value of a fightback that saw Stephen Quinn net the only goal of the half to ensure the final score was nowhere near as damaging as had been promised at half-time.

“A lot is said about the spirit in our dressing room,” the 40-year-old told The Yorkshire Post, “and I think character was important against Arsenal.

“A lot of teams at 3-0 down at half-time at home would have folded, but we didn’t. We have a good dressing room and we all demanded we show character. The manager said we had to win the second half.

“He also said we couldn’t go chasing it, as that is what Arsenal will have wanted. We had to keep our shape and stay solid, while trying to get the next goal.

“We got that but Arsenal are a top side. I was joking with one of the lads earlier when I said, ‘I’d pay to watch them train… and I’m pretty tight.’

“They are a special team, and if you had offered us six points from our last three fixtures beforehand, we would have taken that. Snapped your hands off, in fact.

Arsenal’s 3-1 victory did nudge Hull down a place to 17th, Leicester City having leapfrogged Bruce’s men on goals scored after the clubs’ goal differences moved level on minus 15.

The Foxes, however, are the exception near the foot of the table with the other five clubs in the bottom seven all having a goals deficit in excess of 20.

Come the final shake-up that could prove a decisive factor in the favour of both Hull and their former manager Nigel Pearson at Leicester.

Harper, however, is adamant that the Tigers need not rely solely on that “sllight advantage”.

“As a goalkeeper, at half-time I was thinking about our goal difference and what damage could be done,” he added. “But we got a response and that was good. Our goal difference is a slight advantage but there is no way we can rely on that.”

Burnley, who beat Hull 1-0 earlier in the season on an afternoon when Bruce’s men were woeful, head to the KC with one foot in the Championship.

Defeat at West Ham means the Clarets sit eight points behind Hull and Leicester with three games to play. Throw in a goal difference of minus 27 and Sean Dyche’s men appear doomed.

“We have to take the character of the second half into Saturday,” added Harper. “If we had come off on Tuesday night having lost by four or five, it would have made Burnley tougher. But, as tough as the result was against a top team, we have to take the positives into what is a massive game.

“It really is massive. Burnley are in the situation where if they don’t win, they are down. So, it is big for us but probably even bigger for them.

“We have still got three games to go. Saturday is vital and if we can beat Burnley then it will put us into a much better position.”