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McKenna: We Have Big Confidence in Ourselves
Thursday, 25th Apr 2024 17:09

Town boss Kieran McKenna says his team have “big confidence” in themselves going into Saturday evening’s visit to Hull City, the first of three games which will decide whether the Blues win automatic promotion back to the Premier League after 22 years away (KO 8pm).

As it stands following Leeds' 4-0 defeat at QPR on Friday night, Town are third in the Championship behind now-promoted leaders Leicester City by four points and one off second-placed Leeds, who have a superior goal difference.

Town have two games in hand on the Whites and one on the Foxes and five points from their remaining three games will be enough to secure promotion even if Leeds win their remaining game, next Saturday's home match against Southampton.

The Tigers are seventh, three points behind Norwich City and West Brom in the final play-off places with all three sides having two games to play.

If the Canaries beat Swansea at Carrow Road and the Baggies win at Sheffield Wednesday in the afternoon ahead of Town’s game at the MKM Stadium, then Hull would be out of the running for a top-six place, barring an unlikely goal difference turnaround.

McKenna is fully aware that Saturday’s match is potentially a very big game for both clubs.

“It is,” he said. “It's been such a competitive division this year in the Championship at both ends of the table and in and around the play-off spots, which Hull are fighting for on Saturday night, so there's been so much on every game.

“It's fantastic to be involved in that, especially the things we're challenging for. It sets it up really well going into the last week and we know we're going to have to perform well and we're going to have to pick up really good results.

“But we believe we're capable of doing that against anyone in this league. We know it's going to be difficult but we have big confidence in ourselves and we're going to try and show that on Saturday night.”

On Wednesday, Hull won 3-2 away against Coventry. They are unbeaten in five, winning three and drawing two. Longer term, they have lost only two of their last 14.

However, the East Yorkshire side’s home record is only the 12th best in the Championship, the Tigers having won eight, drawn eight and lost six on their own turf. They’ve been better away from home this season having picked up four more points on their travels.

Eight teams have scored more home goals than Hull’s 32, while they have conceded the seventh fewest in the division, 24.

Their two most recent games at the MKM Stadium have seen a 3-0 victory over QPR and prior to that a 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough. However, before that, they were beaten 2-0 at home by Stoke City which followed three draws, including a 2-2 stalemate with leaders Leicester.

McKenna says the Tigers have done good business in the transfer market this season with Fabio Carvalho perhaps the standout January recruit having netted nine goals in 18 games after signing on loan from Liverpool.

“He’s made a big difference, you can see in his goals but it's not just Carvalho, it's [Abdulkadir] Omur, [Anass] Zaroury and Ryan Giles as well,” McKenna continued.

“Let's be honest, they've recruited fantastically in the summer and recruited fantastically in January as well.

“The individual talent level in their squad is really high and they've got a really clear playing style and identity that [manager] Liam [Rosenior]'s built.

“So no doubt they're a very good side and no doubt it's going to be a tough game, but I'm sure they'll feel the same way about us and it's one to look forward to.”

The Blues’ season will be settled by three big matches in a week but McKenna doesn’t believe tiredness will come into it following the fortnight gap without a game due to last week’s scheduled opponents Coventry’s involvement in the FA Cup.

“We have three games in less than seven days with the way the calendar is going to work out, but I don't think fatigue will be an issue,” he reflected.

“We've had a little break now and I think the motivation will be so high I don't see it being a problem going into the last three games.

“We always utilise the squad in every game with our use of substitutes and we've very often through the season utilised it with changes between games.

“Our culture of the players knowing that those who start the game or those that finish the game isn't necessarily that one job is more important than the other, it's that both jobs are equally important and that's something that we've had in place for a long period of time. That's something I'm sure we'll utilise over the next seven days as well.”

McKenna’s mantra throughout his time with the Blues has been taking one game at a time, which he believes is even more crucial given the current position.

“I think it’s probably even more important this week to just focus on the game ahead because apart from anything else, we know with the situation with the table, we’re going to have to pick up an awful lot of points and we can’t look at it as a three-game block because if we don’t get points in the first two, then maybe it’s not a three-game block,” he said.

“Full focus is on Hull and doing everything we can to try and get the points, and then full focus will be on Coventry and we fully expect that if we get the points in those two games, we’re going to have to go to the last game [at home to Huddersfield] and get the points there as well.

“It’s very much full focus on the next game and hopefully, if each one goes well, then we can take the challenge on to the next one.”

Looking back at the home game against the Tigers, a famous night on which the Blues won 3-0 and then celebrated in the dressing room with sponsor Ed Sheeran, McKenna felt it was one of the best displays of the season.

“I think that would be fair to say,” he recalled. “I think it was an excellent performance and it needs to be against a really strong Hull side.

“We can’t lean on that too much. It’s an away game, it’s a completely different phase of the season, they’ve brought in a lot of new players, we’ve brought in some new players. Both teams will have taken and learned different things from the first game.

“It doesn’t give us any particularly different emotions going into this weekend other than knowing that it’s going to be a really challenging game.”

McKenna said at his pre-match press conference that there were a couple of unnamed players with knocks, while George Hirst and Wes Burns would travel if they came through Friday training OK.

Assuming everyone makes it, McKenna will start with Vaclav Hladky in goal, Leif Davis at left-back and Luke Woolfenden and Cameron Burgess the centre-halves. Once again, the Blues boss will have to choose between Axel Tuanzebe and Harry Clarke at right-back.

In central midfield, skipper Sam Morsy is likely to be partnered by Massimo Luongo with Conor Chaplin set to be in the centre of the three ahead of the double pivot.

Burns may not be considered ready for a start, so Omari Hutchinson will probably be on the right with Nathan Broadhead likely to be on the left.

Kieffer Moore will start up front with Hirst adding to McKenna’s options from the bench in the second half.

Historically, Hull have the edge on the Blues having won 19 of the games between the teams (18 in the league), while Town have been victorious 10 times (10) and a further 11 (11) matches have been draws.

In October at Portman Road, brilliant Town returned to the top of the Championship after a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Hull City, who had gone into the match unbeaten in eight.

Burns got the Blues off to the perfect start with a powerful strike in the fifth minute with Town dominating the first half before Chaplin made it 2-0 four minutes before the break.

Town, who put in their best performance of the season up to that point, sealed the victory with Marcus Harness’s first of the season on 65.

The teams last met in Hull in February 2021 when James Norwood’s fourth goal of the season saw the Blues to a 1-0 victory.

Norwood slammed home Myles Kenlock's superb wind-assisted cross-field pass in the 15th minute.

Blues forward Sone Aluko was with Hull between the summers of 2012 and 2016, making 64 starts and 44 sub appearances, scoring 15 times.

The former Nigeria international was part of the team which won promotion from the Championship after finishing second in 2012/13 and played in the Premier League in the following two seasons.

Tigers manager Rosenior spent 2009/10 on loan at Town from Reading under Roy Keane, making 28 starts and three sub appearances, scoring once.

Town’s Wembley 2000 play-off final man of the match Richard Naylor is academy manager at Hull.

Saturday’s referee is Andrew Kitchen from Durham, who has shown 95 yellow cards and three red in 31 games so far this season.

Kitchen’s last Town match was the 2-1 home victory over Coventry at Portman Road in December when he yellow-carded Luongo, Brandon Williams and one Sky Blue.

In the summer, he was in charge of the 2-1 pre-season victory at Preston North End and before that the 3-2 win at Port Vale in October 2022 in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout.

Kitchen’s only Town fixture prior to that was the 2-0 win at Fleetwood in March when he booked Morsy, Woolfenden and one home player.

Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Burgess, Morsy (c), Luongo, Taylor, Travis, Ball, Chaplin, Harness, Burns, Jackson, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Broadhead, Moore, Hirst, Al-Hamadi.

Photo: TWTD

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MK1 added 17:24 - Apr 25
So do I.

atty added 17:42 - Apr 25
Any take on the Plc letter re the shareholding Mr.Ham?

NthQldITFC added 17:48 - Apr 25
ITFC... I love it!

pennblue added 18:32 - Apr 25
We need to be careful of Carvalho, goes down easily. Need to keep him off his right peg.

Saxonblue74 added 18:32 - Apr 25
Unless I’m mistaken the West Brom result will have a bearing on Hull as well as the Budgies?

Karlosfandangal added 20:37 - Apr 25
Hope Norwich and WBA win as it might knock Hull. If they are in with a chance they will go for it

GrasmereBlue added 21:07 - Apr 25
Hirst and Burns hopefully back on the bench on Saturday. OMG COYB!

bobble added 22:54 - Apr 25
might be better if they actually go for game against us, as we like an open game..........

Gforce added 23:27 - Apr 25
One thing is for sure, it'll definitely be our strongest bench of the season.

Europablue added 01:04 - Apr 26
The first goal will probably prove key. We had a great game against Hull in the home match, but Hull were a threat throughout and the early goal really set the tone for us.
I'm feeling really positive and enjoying the idea of us actually playing. The two weeks off probably did me as much good as it did for the players!

gosblue added 06:58 - Apr 26
It’s like two new signings just when we need them. Exciting times. COYB

tractorboybig added 07:09 - Apr 26
its now crunch time......proof of the pudding

dirtydingusmagee added 07:19 - Apr 26
this is it , COYB we really dont want to be in playoffs after the season weve had ,

bobble added 08:46 - Apr 26
just heard from someone who has inside info, that we will win this 4-1...

Bugledog added 08:49 - Apr 26
COYB! Please win and make my Saturday night...

62WasBest added 09:04 - Apr 26
Just play to your best level for just three more games. That is all you can do, and all we can ask.

dirtydingusmagee added 12:48 - Apr 26
A miracle tonight with QPR win would help

Maltster added 16:19 - Apr 26
You know it might be better to be winning in the Championship next year rather than struggling in the Premiership !

Van_Blue added 21:23 - Apr 26
I understand your comment Maltster, but if we are a struggling club in the PL, even if we are a yo-yo club for a few years at least the money would add to the investments to build the team even more. Also, let's not forget the surprise that GB pulled off last time.

Reality_2021 added 10:56 - Apr 27
We should go at them from the start. Lately we have not been aggressive in the first half and have come away with draws. We are stronger in attack than defence.

I would not expect the same old next season and being honest, we could finish bottom of go up - but we would have been back in the promised land. We would do well to try and sign top championship players for a potential Championship push a few seasons later.

Think we should try and sign Whittaker from Plymouth in the Summer either way.

Good luck Town - it’s ours to lose now.

dirtydingusmagee added 11:21 - Apr 27
really is ours to lose now, Forget the Leeds result now, we have to do our bit, stay focussed and fight for everything till final whistle , Leeds may have thought last night would be a breeze and got spanked we must not do the same . COYB

ArnieM added 11:32 - Apr 27
Come on Town, PLEASE turn up for these big games, and let’s do this and get it done over the next two games. Final day nerves are already here…..

JewellintheTown added 16:14 - Apr 27
Not sure I think Hull having nothing to play for if Norwich & West Brom win, will do us any favours. If Hull need a win to keep their hopes up, then they'll push & expose themselves to our counter strengths. Gaps open up & we can take advantage. Again, maybe we want Huddersfield to draw today vs Birmingham to give them hope on the last game, hopefully pushing & exposing themselves to counters. Could backfire of course, but teams that park the bus seem to frustrate our tactics.
Either way, KM will have plan B tactics ready, I'm sure. Keep the faith.

TimmyH added 17:05 - Apr 27
Well Huddersfield 2 sides with nothing to play for after todays game...don't know whether that is good or bad? to go all out tonight. COYB!

TimmyH added 17:06 - Apr 27
But seriously WBA losing to Wednesday 3-0!...shows what a crazy league it is!

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