Leeds United v Hull City - Nigel Adkins urges Tigers to '˜play with no fear and go for it'

RARELY has a clash with Leeds United ended as flatly for Hull City as the 1-0 home defeat in early October.

Hull Citys Jackson Irvine, seen right playing against Millwall, is away on Asian Cup duty with Australia (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

Where traditionally the visit of such a hated rival would have the KCOM Stadium – or Boothferry Park before it – rocking, apathy reigned both on and off the pitch.

Barely 9,500 Tigers fans were present to watch as lifeless a display from those clad in amber and black as anyone could recall in a meeting with Leeds.

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Manager Nigel Adkins subsequently angered those same supporters further by labelling United, who had been functional rather than fantastic in triumphing 1-0 through a Tyler Roberts strike, as “one of the best sides I have seen in the Championship” before suggesting Hull were “not on a level playing field” with counterpart Marcelo Bielsa’s men.

Four days later, and with the Hull faithful still simmering over comments viewed as little more than a crude attempt to deflect the focus away from their own side’s failings, the East Riding club crashed to the foot of the Championship courtesy of another derby defeat to Sheffield United.

Some expected Adkins to pay the price for the Tigers slipping to their lowest league position since the autumn of 2006 that had claimed Phil Parkinson.

Instead he survived and Hull have since thrived to such an extent that today’s return fixture at Elland Road pits against each other the top two clubs in the December form table.

“We have just got to keep going,” said Adkins about a run of five games that has yielded 13 points, second only to the maximum 15 garnered by the Elland Road club since the start of the month.

“We know the Leeds game will be a challenging one. They are top of the league, there will be a full house and it will be a great atmosphere.

“But we have got to go there with the confidence that comes from winning games of football and scoring good goals away from home.”

Adkins deserves tremendous credit for the turnaround in fortunes that currently has Hull on their best run since winning promotion for a second time under Steve Bruce.

Despite finances meaning Hull missed out on many of his preferred targets last summer, the 53-year-old has utilised the resources at his disposal admirably.

Getting the best out of Kamil Grosicki is not easy, as many managers have found down the years.

But Adkins has done just that by utilising the often problematic Pole’s pace away from home, a tool that has played a big part in Hull being unbeaten in five games on the road.

Grosicki’s upturn in form has brought the best out of Jarrod Bowen, while Daniel Batty is developing well thanks to the faith of a manager who brought in Tommy Elphick on loan from Aston Villa shortly before the summer window closed to bolster a defence that had conceded 70 goals last term.

Elphick’s impending return to Villa Park, meaning today is expected to be his final game in Hull colours, is a blow.

But such is the confidence running through the Hull camp right now that there is a genuine belief Leeds can be beaten.

“We are always looking at ways to win a game,” added Adkins about today’s final assignment of 2018. “It does not matter who we are playing.

“How many times does a team go and win back-to-back away games in the Championship? Probably not many so we know it will be stacked up against us.

“But let’s go with no fear. Let’s go for it.”

Batty was rested for the Boxing Day win at Preston North End, but he is expected to return in place of Jackson Irvine, who has flown out to join up with the Australia squad ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup.

Irvine will be missed as he underlined via the parting shot of scoring both goals in the 2-1 win at Deepdale.

“Jacko has got passion,” added Adkins when asked about what Hull will be without for the next month.

“He has got energy and he can fill in several positions.

“But one of the big things is that when we don’t have a main aerial threat up front, especially when teams lock on, we can get ourselves up the field of play because Jacko wins a lot of headers in the air.

“That is one of the big attributes he has got. He can also run all day. I want us to be a fit side. We have got players who work hard but he does a lot of running.

“I will be honest with you, his quality on the football and his creativity has improved tenfold as well. We are really pleased with that.

“He played as a second striker at Preston and the first goal epitomised what we are looking for, getting in those areas where he can score.”

Asked how Hull will replace Irvine at Elland Road, Adkins said: “We have got different players. We started the season with Evandro in that role. We didn’t risk him at Preston, but he is available for selection (at Leeds). He is ready to start.

“He is not going to play 90 minutes at this time because he has been out for so long. We have got to nurture him back.”

With the memory of not only that October defeat to Leeds still fresh in the mind, but also last season’s unfortunate 1-0 defeat at Elland Road in what was only Adkins’s third game at the helm, Hull are keen to make amends.

To do so they will have to negate a home team that has won seven games in a row, but Adkins believes his players are ready.

“When we played Leeds earlier this season they had one long-range shot and won,” added the Tigers’ chief. “But I said then that they are the best team in the league that we had played and they have since been consistently good.

“We know it will be tough, but we knew going somewhere like Preston would be tough as well. We overcame that challenge and we are on a run. We have just got to keep that momentum going.

“There is a belief about us. The players believe they can go and win games of football.

“We know that we might concede a goal and have a difficult period, but we also know we can get through that.

“We have demonstrated that character time and again. We know we can go and score goals, we are dangerous from set-plays and counter attacks.”