Survival battle: Hull City and Barnsley confident of moving to safety

AS Yorkshire football prepares for its final assignments of 2017, Hull City and Barnsley surely have more reason than most in the county to being desperate for Big Ben to chime in the New Year.

Nigel Adkins: Confident Hull City will pull clear of danger.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Nigel Adkins: Confident Hull City will pull clear of danger. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The Tigers are embroiled in a second successive relegation fight and sit just four points above the drop zone following a difficult return to the Championship.

Barnsley sit one place and one point below Hull after a tough 12 months that have yielded just 45 points from 46 league outings for the Reds.

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Only Hull of the county’s 10 senior clubs collected fewer in 2017, albeit having spent the first five months in the Premier League and playing three games fewer than Barnsley as a result, to underline just how much of a struggle things have been at the KCOM Stadium.

Nigel Adkins, appointed manager earlier this month, is determined to look forward in his quest to turn things around in the East Riding. But he admits the lessons of the past must be learned as part of that recovery process.

“We are at the wrong end of the table,” he told The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home game with Fulham. “That is why a change (of manager) was made.

“It needs a big effort from everyone to move away from that, but I would like to think what is in place at this moment in time gives us an opportunity.

“I have got a resilience about myself and there is a resilience about the team. We will keep going.”

Hull’s tally of 44 points in 2017 is less than half the county’s highest haul, Sheffield United having claimed 91 across a year that has brought the League One title and then a concerted push for the play-offs in the second tier.

Bradford City, with 82 points from 46 league outings, are then followed by Leeds United (75), Sheffield Wednesday (70), Doncaster Rovers (69) and Huddersfield Town (61).

The Terriers’ impressive tally from a year that includes 20 top-flight fixtures shows how poorly both Hull and Middlesbrough, the latter having bagged 48 points, fared in comparison when among the elite.

With not only the Tigers and Boro having struggled this term but also Sunderland, the other side who slid into the Championship last May, shaking off a losing mentality seems harder than most imagine. It is something Adkins was conscious of when succeeding Leonid Slutsky.

“You want to have that winning mentality, but, first of all, you need that organisation,” said the Hull chief.

“We have given ourselves an opportunity with a platform from the last four performances. You look at the teams we have played (three of the top six since Adkins took charge), we have looked the better side.”

Barnsley’s hopes of ending 2017 on a high rest on today’s game with Reading at Oakwell. Without a win in nine games, the Reds need a victory to ease fears of the club being dragged into a full-on relegation scrap in the new year.

Manager Paul Heckingbottom said: “In all the recent games we have been digging in. We have been punished at the back for mistakes and conceding, and also missing chances.

“As a group and as individuals, we are now making less mistakes and have been heavily involved in games. But we have not been clinical enough at the other end. That is the ongoing theme, though I do think we are getting a lot right.”

Heckingbottom, in fact, deserves huge credit in keeping Barnsley afloat during what has been a difficult year.

Last January he was forced to sell James Bree, Conor Hourihane and Sam Winnall, and results took a predictable nose-dive.

This time around the uncertainty surrounding a takeover that finally went through shortly before Christmas also hampered Barnsley’s efforts. Considering those handicaps, Heckingbottom has done well to keep the Reds out of the bottom three as clubs with much bigger resources such as Sunderland and Birmingham City continue to flounder.

It is to be hoped the new owners can provide one of the Championship’s brightest managerial talents with the backing he deserves to ensure 2018 brings a move up the table for the Oakwell outfit.

Adkins, for his part, is of a similar mind at Hull. “We all want Hull City to do well. I have engaged and gone out into the city and the surrounding villages, and when you speak to people that is what you get back,” he said.

“Everyone wants to see the club do well. There is a genuine desire for that to happen. There is no better feeling than a winning football club in the city.”