Hull City are looking to win their opening four Football League matches of a season for only the second time against Plymouth Argyle this weekend. The Tigers last did so in 1948-49 when they went on to win the Third Division North title. Both the Tigers and Argyle remain unbeaten after three games ahead of the match at the KCOM Stadium. The Pilgrims drew 1-1 with Shrewsbury last weekend whilst Grant McCann’s side beat newly promoted Northampton 2-0.
Hull look set to receive a massive boost with the return of forward Tom Eaves. The former Yeovil man has been missing since early September after picking up an injury against Sunderland in the Carabao Cup.
Captain Richie Smallwood and winger Malik Wilks are both back in contention. The duo missed last weekend’s 2-0 win over Northampton.
Sheffield United loanee Regan Slater will be in the squad after joining the club during the week. The defensive midfielder spent last season on-loan at League Two side, Scunthorpe, making 15 appearances in all competitions.
Predicted Line-Up (4-3-3)
Emmanuel, Burke, de Wijs, Elder
Docherty, Honeyman, Smallwood
Wilks, Eaves, Lewis-Potter
Style of Play
After a dreadful campaign that saw them finish bottom of the Championship, Grant McCann’s side have switched from a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation to a more attack minded 4-3-3 formation following relegation to League One. A key aspect of McCann’s recruitment drive has been not to necessarily spend heavily like Sunderland have but to instead build a squad of players with League One experience and most importantly, experience of getting out of the division. Despite this a large focus has been on implementing a younger, hungrier playing squad. Aside from midfielder Richie Smallwood (29), the Tigers’ eight other recruits are all 25 years old and under whilst nine of the 11 departures have been players over 25 years old.
Although primarily a forward, 19-year-old Keane Lewis-Potter joins Malik Wilks out wide either side of their striker whether that’s Josh Magennis who has primarily featured since the start of the season or Tom Eaves who is returning from injury. Similar to last season’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the 4-3-3 system that McCann deploys requires two quick, energetic wingers either side of a physical target man who is good in the air. Lewis-Potter and Wilks remain out wide rather than cutting inside in order to stretch opposition defences, something that will be effective against a side like Argyle with a back three. This allows George Honeyman the room to manoeuvre forward centrally, giving him more room in order to pick out a pass or drive forward at goal. In this sense, Hull are effectively playing in a 4-2-1-3 formation of sorts when on the attack.
Eaves and Magennis combined to score just nine goals last campaign in the Championship as the club found themselves heavily reliant on Jarred Bowen’s return of 22 goal contributions (16G, 6A) during the first-half of the season. The 22-year-old departed for Premier League side West Ham in January which greatly influenced their slump to the foot of the table. The trio of Wilks, Eaves and Magennis have all enjoyed prolific campaigns in League One during recent years, suggesting that this season, against lesser opposition they should recapture some form. Eaves will be remembered by most Football League fans for his prolific stint at Gillingham, scoring 38 goals during his two seasons at Priestfield. The height and physicality of the pair make Hull a danger from set pieces, especially with someone like George Honeyman sending the ball in.
One of the most important things that McCann has done post-season is the bolstering of the Tigers midfield which despite being tightly compact in a 4-2-3-1 formation was often lacking any real bite. The acquisitions of tough-tackling duo Greg Docherty (Rangers) and Richie Smallwood (Blackburn) will perfectly compliment the forward thinking nature of George Honeyman. The former Sunderland man has impressed heavily in the opening three games of the season, contributing to four of Hull’s five goals (1G, 3A). Docherty developed a reputation as a hard-working box-to-box midfielder who also had an eye for goal whilst on-loan at fellow League One side Shrewsbury during the 2018/19 campaign, scoring seven goals in 41 appearances. Smallwood operates as a holding midfielder in front of the back four with Docherty often slotting back in alongside him when Hull are being pressed or boxed in their own half by opposition.
Star Player (George Honeyman)
Midfielder George Honeyman has been quick out of the starting blocks for Hull this season and has already shown the qualities that will make him a key player for this campaign. Whilst it’s easy to focus on the talent of Malik Wilks, or the goalscoring prowess at this level of Tom Eaves, Honeyman has taken just three games to match his contribution from last season. With one goal and three assists to his name, the former Sunderland man has had a hand in all but one goal that the Tigers have scored this season in the league.
Honeyman struggled at times last season after making the step up to the Championship from the aforementioned Black Cats, making 42 appearances. The 26-year-old was one of the benefactors of Jarred Bowen’s move to West Ham, making 12 of his 21 Championship starts following his departure and will be tasked with being his side’s primary creative outlet this current season. With Smallwood and Docherty either side of him, the former Gateshead loanee will have more of a licence to roam this season.
Whilst this Hull side will be expected to reach the League One play-offs as a bare minimum, the glaring issue within the side is their poor pass completion rate. They currently rank 20th in the division with an average of just 65.8%. Whilst McCann’s side have yet to concede in their opening three games, failure to address this issue will cause them problems against bigger sides in the division and also teams, like Argyle who like to press high and dominate possession during games.
Prediction (2-1 Hull)
In terms of what Hull have at their disposal, it’s rather difficult to see past them winning this one. They might have had one of the easier starts to the season, playing Gillingham as well as two fellow promoted sides in Northampton and Crewe but nonetheless have remained solid and kept three clean sheets. They come up against a Plymouth Argyle side shipping goals and still unsure of their best defensive three combination. Will Aimson will be back for the Pilgrims whilst there could also be a first start for Fulham loanee Jerome Opoku. In order to get something from this Argyle will have to be at their most clinical and disciplined. On paper, Hull will be heavy favourites but with Ryan Lowe’s philosophy, Argyle will create plenty of chances, it’s just a case of whether or not they manage to take enough of them.