Past hell dispelled by Hull City's new heroes
There were several enduring images of Hull City’s promotion push in the spring of 2008. Dean Windass celebrating a Wembley goal. Ian Ashbee lifting the play-off final trophy. But that they found themselves there at all was down to another. Opposition managers would plan meticulously to prevent the sight of Fraizer Campbell advancing on goal.
There is now a very different goal threat in the amber and black as Hull aim to return to the big time. The Tigers famously stayed up and then infamously went down, with manager Phil Brown the central figure for the majority of that period. Following Iain Dowie’s brief stint in charge, the latest man in the dugout at the KC Stadium is overseeing another fight for the top flight. This barely looked possible after Nigel Pearson’s first months in charge. Languishing in the lower reaches of the Championship table, Hull seemed to be destined for a season of consolidation following their relegation from the Premier League.
Pearson kept the points tally ticking over though and they spent and loaned well in January. An excellent run of form in the New Year has seen the Humberside club lifted into play-off contention. And on Saturday, Nigel Pearson and his star striker settled a few scores.
That striker, of course, is Matty Fryatt, the man whose goals played a key role in promoting Pearson’s previous club Leicester back into the Championship during Hull’s first Premier League campaign. Pearson trusted Fryatt to do the business in the second tier too and so, placing his faith in the Nuneaton-born forward, he spent what money he had on the defence and midfield. Fryatt rewarded his manager with a flurry of goals in the early stages of the season.
In December 2009, with Leicester well-placed in the table, they made the short trip north to the City Ground to take on Nottingham Forest. They had already lost 1-0 at Newcastle and were to lose 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion shortly before sealing their play-off spot in April. In short, difficult away games often seemed to be Pearson’s Achilles heel. Forest steamrollered the visitors with a Robert Earnshaw hat-trick sealing a 5-1 victory. The completely ineffective Fryatt was substituted after just 36 minutes.
Ancient history now. Pearson’s pride was severely dented by that defeat though and even a 3-0 success over Forest could not truly count as revenge, nor the fact that the player he discarded, DJ Campbell, scored a hat-trick of his own on the banks of the River Trent in May to knock Billy Davies’s side out of the play-offs. There was still work to be done.
In the summer, Pearson swapped the Walkers for the KC. In January, Fryatt did the same. On Saturday, they returned to Nottingham with their new club and became the next team after Blackpool to win at Forest’s fortress. Fryatt scored the only goal of the game.
In truth, a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest will mean nothing to either Pearson or Fryatt if they do not go one better than they managed last May – for three reasons. Firstly, the cruel manner of Cardiff City’s play-off semi-final win still rankles with anyone connected with Leicester City at the time. Secondly, both Pearson and Fryatt have a record to set straight with Leicester for letting them leave. Thirdly, and certainly most importantly, these are two focused, intelligent men still to reach the halfway point in their respective careers.
Pearson is the perfect Championship boss in so many ways – not least because of the excellent backroom staff that accompany him on his travels and complement his skills. Between them, Pearson and his two companions Craig Shakespeare and Steve Walsh can assemble a competitive team, organise them and motivate them. In the Championship, with so little between many of the participating clubs, those three qualities are invaluable. Pearson now needs to prove himself as a winner at such a competitive level and, in particular, to gain the opportunity to manage in the Premier League.
Fryatt has a similar target. Having struggled to impose himself for long periods at Championship level while at Leicester, this is a player with plenty to prove and the potential to prove it. His current goalscoring record is excellent and, as any Walsall or Leicester supporter knows, a fit and happy Fryatt will always threaten any opposition. An unfit, unhappy Fryatt is a completely different proposition, but Pearson has demonstrated that he is the man to get the best out of his star striker.
With 46 fixtures to play, crucial encounters come along fairly frequently in the Football League and Hull’s imminent home game is another huge test – Eddie Howe’s resurgent Burnley side are the visitors to the KC Stadium tomorrow night. Pearson’s driven nature dictates that Saturday’s win will already be long forgotten and preparations are certainly well underway to secure the next three points on offer. To beat Burnley would be a massive signal of intent as the top six looms on the horizon. Hull City are back on the march.