Stand-in Matt Ingram stakes his claim for No 1 shirt at Hull City
Although only three of five summer signings played in the League Cup first-round tie at Sunderland, there were only three survivors from the final game of last season in the XI.
That Hull set up a second-round tie against Yorkshire rivals Leeds United without playing well was another welcome difference. The clean sheet goalkeeper Ingram claimed was their first since New Year’s Day – the last day before their nosedive from play-off contenders to bottom of the Championship started.
Ingram owed his inclusion to a kick sustained by George Long in training and responded with two vital saves during a goalless 90 minutes, and another in the penalty shoot-out.
His only Championship appearance last season came when Long was handed a one-match punishment for conceding eight goals at Wigan Athletic. Long was outstanding for the first half of the season but like many, his confidence ebbed as the team plummeted down the table.
Now, the congested fixture list means even his minor injury could give Ingram chance to build on Saturday’s performance.
“It was really important and if this is the start of my opportunity at Hull I need to take it,” said Ingram, signed from Queens Park Rangers last summer. “I was delighted with the clean sheet and I just need to keep on going now to stay in the team.
“It is frustrating not to play but I respect the gaffer, I respect Longy and everyone. The decision was that Longy was doing okay and that was fine with me.
“I’ve just got to be ready for when my chance comes and if this is the start of my chance, fantastic, I’ve got to take it.”
Hull were fortunate – another change – to make it to a shoot-out but as is often the case in football, their luck was earned.
Flying out of the traps after six months away, Sunderland bossed the game, although their influence waned with their fitness.
In four of last season’s final seven matches Hull conceded inside five minutes and would have done so again but for debutant Josh Emmanuel heading Max Power’s goalbound header away inside the first 30 seconds, and the first of two disallowed goals for Will Grigg.
Ingram brilliantly denied Luke O’Nien with his feet after 18 minutes, and got down to deny former Bradford City striker Charlie Wyke in the 83rd minute.
“That’s just my job,” shrugged Ingram modestly, “I was happy with those saves in normal time and the penalty save was a bonus.
“Last year we might have conceded a couple in the first half but everyone stuck to their job, especially on set pieces, and we managed to see the first half out. In the second half we got more of a foothold, created more chances and dealt with them a lot better.
“I think it’s proven to ourselves as much as anyone that we can begin to fight and we’ve got a great group of lads in that dressing room. When things do get tough we can get through it and out the other side.”
Wyke’s effort was against the run of play, which for the last quarter was almost exclusively in Sunderland territory, yet Martin Samuelsen’s routine header at Luke Burge was Hull’s only effort on target.
They were incisive from 12 yards, always ahead of the game thanks to Ingram saving the first kick of the shoot-out with his legs from the cursed Grigg. Impeccable Malik Wilks, Richie Smallwood, Samuelsen, George Honeyman and Kean Lewis-Potter penalties saw Hull through 5-4.
Grant McCann explained Long’s absence was not down to the reported dressing-room bust-up with Wilks after a pre-season friendly at Rotherham United. Without confirming anything, he gave an impression of the sort of run-of-the-mill flare-up that happens on training grounds and after matches – welcome passion from a team too timid in this abomination of a year.
“George Long should be fine for next week and if not next week, the week after,” said his coach. “We’re hopeful he’ll be back with us (in training) on Thursday.
“Things happen in changing rooms all the time but there’s nothing wrong with Malik and George. It was just a kick in training for George, someone caught him on the top of his hand.”
Hull host Leicester City Under-21s in the EFL Trophy tomorrow, then open their League One campaign at Gillingham on Saturday. The League Cup second round is next midweek.
“Hopefully I get a good run of games now and I can prove I’m worth the shirt,” said Ingram. “I want to play as many games as I can, help the team out as much as I can and push for promotion.”
An ankle injury for centre-forward Tom Eaves gave Lewis-Potter his chance for an hour and with the defence still shaky, young centre-backs Jacob Greaves and Sean McLoughlin could soon be handed cup opportunities to push their claims.
Change is needed. Only the strong-willed will survive it.
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