Hull Daily Mail's football reporter on what Bolton can expect from their latest opponents this weekend
Philip Buckingham of the Hull Daily Mail speaks to bwfc.co.uk to offer up his views on Wanderers’ last opponents at Macron Stadium this season.
bwfc.co.uk:Hull have been up and around the top end of the league table for most of the campaign, but automatic promotion has proven to be one bridge too far. What have the sides above done that the Tigers haven’t?
PB: Quite simply, they’re the teams that have timed their runs the best. City were always in the automatic promotion picture from October through until March but a sequence of one win in eight games quickly saw them fall off the pace. That bad spell of form was the sucker punch on a top-two finish, leaving no time to recover. I doubt anyone at City is looking up at Burnley, Middlesbrough and Brighton and thinking they have superior squads but those three teams have struck upon consistency, the Championship’s most valuable commodity.
bwfc.co.uk: Should the club win promotion back to the top flight at the first time of asking, how have they done in terms of maintaining a Premier League infrastructure to stand the best chance of survival?
PB: One of the big reasons City have been an ever-present in the top six this season is because Steve Bruce was able to keep a strong unit together in the wake of relegation. A good number were offloaded last summer, raising somewhere in the region of £25m, but in came a smattering of hungry, young players to bolster the squad. That blend has served them well for much of the current season and plenty of this rebuilt squad could expect chances in the Premier League alongside the inevitable summer signings.
bwfc.co.uk: Following on from two seasons in the top flight, what were people expecting of Hull as the minimum requirement this term and how has that panned out?
PB: Had a straw poll been taken on the opening day of the Championship season, most fans would have gladly accepted a top-six finish. There was a lot of uncertainty around the club right up until the summer transfer window closed. Only then did it become clear that City had kept a squad capable of more. The expectations, fanned by the team’s success through the winter, were then for automatic promotion. Players, staff and fans have now been left frustrated to be in the play-offs.
bwfc.co.uk: Abel Hernandez has certainly come into his own this season with the Uruguayan topping the club’s goalscoring charts by some distance. What would you credit his success to?
PB: Last season was a baptism of fire for Hernandez. He was new to English football and carried the burden of being the club’s record signing. That proved too much for him to produce the goods on a consistent basis but, to his immense credit, he’s knuckled down in the Championship and come up trumps. Hernandez’s all-round game is far from perfect but he certainly knows where the goal is. That predatory instinct has delivered 20 goals and counting.
bwfc.co.uk: Aside from the obvious key men, which players have been unsung heroes this term?
PB: The lack of an obvious Player of the Season sums up how it’s been a squad effort over the course of the campaign. Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies have been very good in central defence, as have Andy Robertson and Sam Clucas on the left wing. Jake Livermore was really shining before and after Christmas and then there’s been the goals of Hernandez that have made the difference in attack. Allan McGregor does his duties without fuss in goal and that’s also earned him a new two-year deal.
bwfc.co.uk: Steve Bruce, now nearing the end of his fourth year in charge, has brought ample success to the KC Stadium. What is the consensus on the manager?
PB: Bruce will accept that his stock is not quite what it was two years ago when leading City to the FA Cup final and Premier League survival. His popularity knew no bounds back then but relegation last season began to see his halo lose its shine. Bruce, like his players, has a lot riding on the next month. Take City up and he’s back to being a hero, but fail to do so and the criticism will inevitably come. No matter what happens, though, he already boasts a place among the club’s greatest managers.
bwfc.co.uk: And finally, a score prediction for this weekend's encounter?
PB: You have to feel for Bolton’s plight in these final weeks but it’s got to be an away win, so 2-0 to Hull City.
Philip can be found on Twitter, @PJBuckingham
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