Hull City will be many pundits’ candidates for relegation this season, probably along with Peterborough United and Blackpool.
For those that haven’t watched City since their Championship place was ripped from their grasp a year ago, Grant McCann’s side return a very different proposition, and that’s why fans should be optimistic going into Saturday’s curtain raiser at Preston North End, despite what some removed onlookers may suggest.
One season preview piece this week predicted that City would go straight back down to League One, which drew plenty of ire from supporters and rightly so.
“Hull City bounced back to the second tier at the first attempt as League One champions, but a loan from the English Football League and Premier League in order to keep their squad intact has left them operating under financial restrictions, including a transfer embargo, and that will make life difficult for Grant McCann’s side in their bid to consolidate,” it said.
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While the club are operating under a level of transfer restrictions, they’ve still been able to sign six players from back to front and those acquisitions look steady enough.
What should give encouragement to those who have Black and Amber running through their veins is the fact that last season’s side has largely been kept together, one tight at the back and very good going forward.
George Long was ousted as number one by Matt Ingram so it’s hard to imagine his loss will be felt, especially as the replacement they’ve signed – Nathan Baxter – from Chelsea looks top class, and in Reece Burke, while his departure is a blow, Alfie Jones proved what a capable deputy he was in the closing weeks of the season.
Di’Shon Bernard looks a signing with potential and one to provide suitable cover for Jones or Jacob Greaves should they suffer injury, loss of form or suspension and below that there’s Sean McLoughlin and Festus Arthur, both of whom will relish the chance to prove they too belong at this level.
Di’Shon Bernard and Tom Huddlestone in action against Manchester United
(Image: Tom Purslow/MUFC)
Greaves in particular is one to watch this season having stormed onto the scene last term.
Whether it be Josh Emmanuel or Lewie Coyle who gets the nod on the right side of the defence – almost certainly Coyle for the opener – the Tigers will boast two of the best right-sided defencemen in the division and on the left, Callum Elder will be desperate to improve upon his last showing in this division.
Moving further forward, Richie Smallwood looks at this stage like being the midfield anchor-man, with Greg Docherty and Andy Cannon operating further forward, though there is little doubt that George Honeyman’s absence throughout pre-season has been felt and will continue to be so during the opening weeks.
Cannon has looked solid enough in the games we’ve seen him so far, but Honeyman’s class, his guile with and without the ball coupled with his delivery from set-pieces is a hammer blow and would be to any side at this level and quite how Matt Smith fits into the jigsaw remains to be seen, and then there’s Tom Huddlestone.
Honeyman didn’t enjoy the campaign before last given the way in which is played out and he’ll be desperate to get back out into the cut and thrust of the Championship to show that this is a level he belongs at.
Randell Williams and George Moncur again look like solid signings to give McCann options in wide areas and through the middle, but it’s going forward where City will hope they create mass panic.
Over 50 goals were scored by Mallik Wilks, Josh Magennis and Keane Lewis-Potter last term and the trio will fancy their chances again this season, albeit against better defensive units than we saw in League One.
That said, City are a side that will create chances and the pressure will be on that trio to find the net with unerring regularity.
Ryan Longman, the loan arrival from Brighton, has impressed during pre-season and if Wilks is not fit to take his place this weekend then expect him to start wide of the front three.
Like Honeyman before him, Lewis-Potter will be desperate to deliver at this level, and if he does, it could prove bitter-sweet for supporters.
Keane Lewis-Potter has a shot at goal against Sunderland
(Image: Mark Cosgrove/News Images)
As with Greaves, a fine start to life in the second tier for Lewis-Potter will only enhance his reputation and see speculation surrounding his future grow as January edges closer.
The Championship is a tough league, we all know that and it arguably gets more difficult with each passing year, and with more parachute payments – or solidarity payments as they’re now called – but McCann’s men should be bullish.
Few teams will start this season with the momentum they gained from last season, the confidence and belief in what they are doing.
McCann has them well-drilled, they know their jobs and how each individual fits into the team ethos, that level of organisation can’t be underestimated.
This division is littered with clubs that have continually spent big and lived well beyond their means to chase the golden ticket that is Premier League football, and those clubs are still paying the price.
That is something that should be used to City’s advantage, while so many other clubs are trying to fathom out how to trim a squad of 35 players with their ninth manager in three years, McCann’s crew are well-versed, they should continue to ride the crest of a wave and believe in their methods.
A quick glance at the budget sheets will tell you City should struggle, that predicting a 17th or 18th place finish is right, but that’s too easy.
Barnsley’s budget should not have seen them finish sixth and go agonisingly close to getting to a play-off final, but it did.
Big budgets can give you the chance to sign the best players, however, being successful is about more than that, it’s about having a close knit group of players, a good team spirit and a belief that cannot be bought or fostered overnight.
This season will be different, teams do not have the finances to go out and spend big, aside of the recently relegated Premier League clubs, and there really is not a huge amount to choose between the remaining 16 or 17 clubs.
Come Christmastime, you’ll be able to throw a blanket over the sides between sixth and 18th place, it will be that tight and congested, and there is absolutely no reason City fans should be dreading what’s to come.
Get off to a good start, keep the confidence and momentum rolling and you just never know…