Sunderland take on Hull in the first round of the Carabao Cup on Saturday, behind closed doors at the Stadium of Light. It will be Phil Parkinson’s sides’ first match of the 2020/21 season and their first since the implementation of the new COVID-19 guidelines.
Hull’s last visit on Wearside ended in a 1-0 defeat in January 2018, with Joel Asoro scoring the winning goal for Chris Coleman’s Sunderland team. Ahead of the match, I spoke to Hull fan and Tigers Blah Blah Blah podcast host Luke Flanagan, to discuss his team’s summer recruitment and aspirations for this season.
MC: First and foremost, former Sunderland captain George Honeyman signed for Hull last season for 400K - would you say he has been a successful signing for The Tigers so far?
LF: I would say initially, no. He never really had a run in the team or showed any decent form on a regular basis. Post lockdown though, he was one of our better players and many fans were shouting for him to be captain because of his positive attitude.
MC: Hull have signed two previous Sunderland targets in Lewie Coyle and Greg Docherty so far during the current transfer window, do you think that is a clear statement of intent from the club?
LF: It is definitely promising. We needed to strengthen in many areas but right back was a big issue after letting Lichaj go. Many fans are excited by the Docherty signing with him coming from Rangers, so I’m keen to see how that one pans out.
MC: Despite suffering relegation to League One, Hull decided to stick with manager Grant McCann - do you think that was the correct decision?
LF: Not particularly, but the other question is who do you bring in? McCann should have walked last season but never did, so we can’t do much except hope his League One experience will serve us well this season.
MC: Only one of the sides relegated from the Championship in 2018/19 (Rotherham) managed to to achieve promotion from League One last season, what are your aspirations for Hull this season?
LF: I would be very surprised if we got into the playoffs, never mind get promoted. This is a season of consolidation for us and in my opinion a top half finish would be decent.
MC: The newly implemented salary cap has been a leading talking point amongst League One supporters - how have those measures impacted Hull so far this season?
LF: It has meant we don’t have any high earners at the club so theoretically we should be in a strong position to cope with that. We’ve brought in players on much lower wages than before and players who are still there from last year have had a 50% wage reduction, so we shouldn’t have problems with the salary cap.
MC: Hull finished bottom of the Championship last season, despite being 8th before the departures of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in January - are you concerned that this squad and management group will not be able to shake that losing mentality?
LF: That is a possibility, but the new lads brought in should rectify that in my opinion. Players like Lewie Coyle and Richie Smallwood should give us the mental strength and leadership we didn’t have at the back end of last season.
MC: Sunderland and Hull are both highly unlikely to win the Carabao Cup, do you think it is likely the match will have a pre-season feel to it as both clubs are preparing the league season?
LF: Definitely. I expect it to be a low scoring game and not one with a lot of quality! I think it will take some time before we see the best of many sides this season.
MC: Who are the eleven Hull players you would predict McCann to select and who is away on international duty?
LF: Josh Magennis is away with Northern Ireland - and I couldn’t tell you for sure what players McCann will pick, but he’ll go 4-3-3. He always does. If I had to guess, I would say;
Long; Emmanuel, De Wijs, Burke, Elder; Smallwood, Docherty, Batty; Scott, Lewis-Potter, Wilks.
MC: Lastly, Hull have not beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light since 2014, what is your honest prediction of the final score?
LF: I think Sunderland will just shade it, 2-1.