The Story So Far
Despite their manager, Steve Bruce, quitting just three weeks before the start of the season, and a significant lack of investment in the playing squad from owner Assem Allam, Hull started the season with seven points from four games - including an opening day win over champions Leicester. But a run of six without a win, including a 6-1 defeat at Bournemouth, dragged them into the relegation zone, before a comeback win against high-flying Southampton last time out gave the Tigers a much needed three points.
The Manager - Mike Phelan
Long heralded as an outstanding coach, and one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most trusted allies, Phelan initially acted as caretaker manager after Bruce’s departure from the KCOM Stadium.
Despite a lack of investment in the squad and a number of injuries to key players, Phelan guided Hull to an impressive start. He was eventually confirmed as manager on a permanent basis in October, on a one year deal, but immediately lost his assistant Stephen Clemence to Aston Villa. Phelan now faces a tough task keeping Hull in the Premier League.
Key Player - Robert Snodgrass
The Scottish international is by far Hull’s most dangerous player. Snodgrass leads Hull in goals scored (with four), assists (tied, with one), shots per game (with two), key passes per game (with 1.4) and chances created (with 14). With four goals and one assist, Snodgrass has contributed to 50% of Hull’s goalscoring total this season.
Predominantly left footed, Snodgrass primarily plays on the right wing, allowing him to cut inside to create scoring opportunities. While his creativity cannot be questioned, Snodgrass’ lack of pace makes him unlikely to attack the wings. Patrick van Aanholt should have the beating of him physically, but the Scot may come out on top in a technical battle.
Along with West Brom, Hull have the highest percentage of goals scored from set-pieces, with 50%. That’s no surprise with the delivery of Snodgrass and the likes of Curtis Davies and Michael Dawson attacking the ball.
And despite their porous defence, Hull remain combative and engaging in defensive scenarios, making 18.8 tackles and 16.3 tackles per game.
Away from statistics, Hull clearly have some character in the side. Despite obvious issues at the beginning of the season, they picked up two wins and a draw from their first four games. In their last outing against Southampton, they rallied from a goal down to win for the first time since match-day two.
Put simply, scoring goals and preventing goals have proved difficult for Hull. They have scored just ten goals (the joint 2nd worst record in the league), and only Robert Snodgrass has scored more than one goal. Hull’s forwards have combined for just two. At the other end, the Tigers have conceded a league worst 24. 19 of those goals have come from within the 18-yard-box. All nine of Sunderland’s goals have been scored in this area, and with Victor Anichebe impressing against Bournemouth with his physicality, the Black Cats will expect to see more opportunities in Hull’s box.
The fact that Hull have the league’s worst defensive record is no surprise, considering that they allow a league high 21.5 shots per game. They also shoot less than any other side, with just 8.6 per game - only 50% of these are within the penalty area. Their 2.6 shots on target per game is not the league’s worst, but it hardly gives them a good chance to score.
Only Bournemouth win less aerial duels than Hull (12.2 per game). Sunderland, and Anichebe in particular, were dominant in the air against Bournemouth, and should look to exploit this on Saturday.
Phelan has shuffled the deck regularly this season, although a 4-1-4-1 is likely to be used on Saturday. Hull don’t see a great deal of the ball, but they still manage to make 427 passes per game. With their problems in defence, the emphasis for Hull is to get the ball forward and keep it away from their own goal. Hull look to crowd central areas and are rather active defensively as a result, but their approach is a limited one better suited to protecting a lead.
Dieumerci Mbokani will be expected to hold the ball up to allow the likes of Jake Livermore and Ryan Mason to advance forward. As their biggest creative threat, Snodgrass will look to cut inside, creating space for Ahmed Elmohamady to attack van Aanholt. Hull are likely to view this as a game in which they can gain a valuable three points, but don’t expect them to be too adventurous.