It was the perfect return to Championship life for Hull City, winning 4-1 at Preston North End to launch their season in some style.
Keane Lewis-Potter scored on the opening day of the season for the second successive campaign in what was a terrific display from the 20-year-old, while there were also goals for Richie Smallwood, Josh Magennis and Andy Cannon on debut.
To be top of the league has a familiar ring to it for the Tigers, albeit after just one game but why not make the most of such days, after all, they’re what we’re in the game for, aren’t they?
Here, City reporter Barry Cooper looks back on a day to remember at Deepdale…
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Keane Lewis-Potter’s Championship welcome
There were a number of stand-out performances from City’s players at Deepdale, in fact, you’d be hard pushed to pick out anyone that didn’t have a good game.
Everything good that they did went through Richie Smallwood, Greg Docherty and Lewie Coyle but it was Keane Lewis-Potter who terrorised Preston from minute one with his pacey wing play and keenness to take on his man.
Just before the break, one of Lewis-Potter’s many driving runs took him past Tom Barkhuizen down the left flank only for the North End man to chop him down in frustration and pick up a deserved yellow card.
His finish from Smallwood’s wonderfully weighted through ball was expertly taken, his first touch perfect and his finish crisp and clinical into the bottom corner, the type of finish you’d expect to see from a player brimming with confidence which he clearly is, and why wouldn’t he be?
Such were the problems he posed to Preston, the hosts made a switch at half-time bringing on Sepp Van Den Berg in a bid to quell Lewis-Potter’s threat, and in truth, the Dutchman probably wouldn’t have thanked his manager for exposing him in the second period.
Quite why any manager would want to play three at the back against City is beyond me, because this was another example of what potency this side has against a fairly average defensive unit operating in such a way.
Time and time again the Tigers pressed high and the 20-year-old was in a good position, and his clip into the near post for Josh Magennis was inch-perfect, telepathic understanding of where his colleague will be making his run.
The pre-season hype and excitement surrounding Lewis-Potter, albeit after one game, looks well placed.
Keane Lewis-Potter #11 of Hull City celebrates scoring a goal to make it 1-1
(Image: Simon Whitehead/News Images)
City’s most experienced Championship performer had, in some quarters, been written off following the arrival on trial of Tom Huddlestone, with many expecting Smallwood to be the sacrificial lamb and moved out to accommodate the club’s returning hero.
If anybody needed a timely reminder of why Grant McCann was so keen to sign Smallwood last summer and keep him in the team, this was it.
Smallwood did what he does best, largely go unnoticed to the casual observer in the midfield area, winning tackles, picking up second balls and shielding the back four, particularly Josh Emmanuel who was operating out of position at left-back in the absence of Callum Elder.
I wrote this numerous times last term, but again at Deepdale, Smallwood was the water carrier that underpins everything McCann’s side does, his cover and reading of the game allowed City to play high up, to keep the ball and spend large portions of the game playing in the Preston half.
His perfectly weighted pass for Lewis-Potter’s equaliser was as good as a defensive-splitting pass as you’re ever likely to see, and while his goal may have been a tad fortunate with the deflection and then hitting the inside of the post, he earned that piece of luck with a terrific all-round display.
If you could have scripted the perfect opening day display from your skipper, this was it.
Richie Smallwood #6 of Hull City waves to the travelling supporters after his side beat Preston North End 1-4
Laying down a marker
There are a myriad of different reasons why I don’t believe Hull City will struggle in this season’s Championship, many of which we’ve covered before and this performance encapsulates exactly why this should be a campaign to embrace, one to relish and look forward to.
For one, McCann’s side know their role within the side and what’s expected of them as individuals and as part of the greater collective.
They’re positive, they operate on the front foot and whenever the situation allows, they’ll play forward and Preston could not live with the sharp, incisive passing, the movement and energy City showed.
Barely 20 minutes had elapsed before the home side were blowing, McCann’s men taking full advantage while getting stronger and stronger as the game wore on, there’s no surprise that the game ended as it did.
For those pundits and observers who have written City off before a ball was kicked simply because of the transfer restrictions and being new to the league, this was a display which may well see one or two eat their words over the next nine months.
This is only the first game, there are 45 still to come, but as starts go, you could not ask for anything better away from home in a new league, against one of the Championship’s founding members.
Josh Magennis #27 of Hull City celebrates scoring a goal to make it 1-3
(Image: Simon Whitehead/News Images)
Expert game management
One of the stand-out features of last season was City’s ability to see out a game, particularly at home when things were a lot tighter.
Away from home for the most part this team swept the opposition to one side, scored for fun and played with a remarkable freedom.
Remember Portsmouth away, Wigan, Plymouth? All games where City weathered pressure at times before unleashing their attacking weapons and running away with the game in style.
This was a very similar encounter to those, but in the key moments they managed the contest well.
Having fallen behind to a poor goal so early, the players flushed that out of their system and settled into the occasion, dominating the ball and keeping Preston pinned back in their own half, and silencing what was a vocal crowd early on.
Before the break, City were pushing and had the half been five minutes longer there’s every chance the second goal would have been forthcoming.
Even at the start of the second period when Preston had clearly been given a rocket up their backside by Frankie McAvoy, City held firm and needed Matt Ingram to make a couple of timely saves.
Having seen out that expected early rally from the home side, City once again assumed control of the contest and the second goal was always coming, it was only ever a matter of time, and instead of being content to sit back and allow themselves to fall into the trap of defending deep to hold onto what they’ve got, McCann’s side never allowed the Lillywhites to create a head of steam and for their supporters to make a difference in the closing stages.
The third and then fourth goal proved the proverbial icing on the cake and were fully deserved, and if City can keep that attitude going forward then they could surprise one or two this season.
Grant McCann celebrates at Preston
(Image: Simon Whitehead/News Images)
The Tiger nation back with a bang
We couldn’t compile a list of talking points without mentioning the return of supporters after 18 long months.
That gap has seen the club go down, come back up again, win a league title and bring in a host of new players, so it’s no surprise that the fans were out in force to see their side at Deepdale.
There may have been some disappointment in some quarters about the size of City’s following in the North West (1,800), but for those who made the journey they were in great voice from before kick-off, heralding the arrival of the players for the warm-ups and that supportive theme continued throughout.
A Hull City fan celebrates his team beating Preston North End 1-4
For three of City’s four goals to have been scored in front of a joyous away end only added to what was a special occasion for those supporters who made the trip to Lancashire.
While there will always be a strong feeling of anger and annoyance aimed towards the club’s ownership until such time as it changes hands, the manager and players are delivering performances and results to be proud of, to enjoy.
Football as we know and love it is back, and given what’s gone before, supporters should relish what was on show at Deepdale and enjoy watching their team play.
This game is about being enthralled, getting you off your seat and enjoying what you watch – whatever happens, City are going to entertain this term and the players need you right there with them.