Richie Smallwood says Saturday’s thumping win over Preston North End has laid down a marker for not just himself, but for the rest of the Hull City team.
City produced a stunning display to see off the home side at Deepdale, scoring three times in the second half to record a 4-1 win, having been a goal down inside the opening 10 minutes, a result which took them top of the table at the end of a fascinating weekend.
The Tigers face the first of three home games in 10 days on Tuesday night when they host League One side Wigan Athletic in the first round of the Carabao Cup, in what will be a repeat of the end of season tussle between the pair.
Grant McCann’s men had already secured promotion after a win at Lincoln City, but a 3-1 win over the Latics secured the club’s first title in 55 years and sparked scenes of celebration.
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That result also saw the Latics secure survival after a difficult campaign, and Tuesday night’s meeting will be the latest in a run of dramatic encounters between the pair, and Smallwood will be hoping City secure a safe passage into round two, just as they did a year ago.
“It’s a brilliant start,” Smallwood said.
“We showed with the performance that we have that winning mentality, togetherness and character that we need.
“With the shape Preston normally play with three at the back, I thought our style of play with three forwards would cause a threat and I think we showed that.
“I suppose though coming away from home in the first Championship fixture and winning 4-1, we probably didn’t think that would happen.”
Despite coming in for some pre-season stick from sections of the City fanbase, Smallwood delivered an inspired display in the heart of the midfield, one his manager claimed was his best since arriving from Blackburn Rovers last summer.
The skipper’s wonderful defence-splitting pass fashioned the chance for Keane Lewis-Potter to expertly roll in City’s equaliser, before getting on the scoresheet himself to put the visitors in front in the second half, seeing his effort deflect in off a post.
That lead given to them in the 62nd minute proved crucial, enabling City to take a stranglehold on proceedings and then add gloss to an emphatic scoreline with Josh Magennis and Andy Cannon notching the third and fourth.
So good was Smallwood’s display, not only did he draw praise from his manager, but found himself named in the EFL’s Team of the Week.
“I can’t argue with my performance; a goal and an assist,” he explained.
“I’ve waited a long time for a goal, I think since 2018, so it was worth the wait!
“The manager spoke to me after the game and said ‘well done’ to me and added that it was probably my best performance in a Hull shirt.
“I don’t think I put any pressure on myself, but it was a good marker not only for me, but for the whole team as well and we need to carry it on now.”
Despite his impressive display in Lancashire, it’s likely Smallwood could be rested for the visit of Wigan, with McCann expected to ring the changes ahead of two successive home clashes with QPR and then Derby County.
Smallwood’s spot could go to Matt Smith, the Manchester City loanee who arrived from the Etihad Stadium last week and came off the bench for his first taste of action in a City shirt at Deepdale.
It’s also expected that Nathan Baxter will be handed his first start in goal, having moved on a season-long loan earlier this summer from Chelsea, while Brandon Fleming could be handed a start at left-back if Callum Elder is not passed fit to play.
City’s predicted starting XI: Baxter, Elder, Bernard, A Smith, Emmanuel, M Smith, Cannon, Docherty, Scott, Lewis-Potter, Eaves.