Matthew Crichton: After a run of just one defeat in 10 matches after the World Cup, Hull are currently on a run of one win in nine games. How would you summarise Liam Rosenior’s tenure so far?
Ant Northgraves: It’s been mostly positive so far under Rosenior. He inherited Shota Arveladze’s squad and has tried to change our style of play completely to one that’s possession-based, playing out from the back and pressing high.
We had the worst defence in the League under Shota, and now have one of the best in the League since Rosenior’s appointment, so he’s done very well in that respect.
Our issue at the minute is scoring goals, and much of that is down to an absurd season in regards to injuries to key attackers, preventing any of our forwards from having a decent run of games.
MC: When Shota Arveladze was sacked, the club sat anxiously around the relegation spots. With that in mind, are fans content with Rosenior’s job guiding you to what seems highly likely to be safety?
AN: We would have taken any improvement on last season, and the vast majority of Hull City fans would have been happy with a mid-table finish this season, especially after our torrid first half of the season under Arveladze.
We have a clear style of play, have made clear progression and can see what Rosenior is trying to do with this squad, so the fact we’re relatively safe with so many games to go is a positive.
MC: Given the level of player turnaround and the investment from new owner Acun Illicali, do you think next year the playoffs will be the club’s aspiration?
AN: Definitely, yeah. Although I think the top 10 and at least fighting for the playoffs would be sufficient.
This season, it’s clear that the players weren’t fit enough, and some may not fit Rosenior’s style of play so it’s a very important window for us, as we need to get the players in that can implement this new system.
Hopefully, a full pre-season gets the players up to the levels of fitness required and with a bit more luck in terms of injuries, we could have a successful season.
MC: Aside from Oscar Estupiñán, no Hull player has scored more than five goals this season. The striker missed the recent 0-0 draw with Rotherham, should he not start, who can Rosenior rely on to step up and find the net?
AN: I think Oscar will be back for the Sunderland game [Ed - Rosenior subsequently has said he’ll be missing], but if not then we don’t really have any other options.
We had no recognised striker in the matchday squad against Rotherham as Estupiñán, Connolly and Tetteh were all out injured, so instead used Ryan Longman as the centre forward with Ebiowei and Allahyar on the wings.
That front three has pace and the ability to be dangerous, but doesn’t have the physicality or hold-up ability to be truly as effective as our usual choices.
MC: Hull recruited the likes of Aaron Connolly, Malcolm Ebiowei and Karl Darlow in January - how have they performed so far?
AN: They’ve all been good so far.
Darlow has come in and shown how comfortable he is with the ball at his feet, helping us play out from the back easily but also showing how good a shot-stopper he is.
Malcolm Ebiowei came with a lot of hype and struggled to make an impact in his first few games, but has started to show his quality the last few weeks. He is skillful, pacey and very direct so can give a full-back a very tough game but needs to improve on his final product.
Connolly looked to be the missing piece to our puzzle. Relentless energy, pressing, running the channels and winding the opposition up. He scored 2 just before his injury, halting his promising progress but hopefully, he’s back soon and comes here permanently in the summer as he could be a crucial player for us next season.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Hull players will Sunderland have to be wary of?
AN: Adama Traore. The Malian International midfielder signed for us in the summer, but got a long-term injury soon after and only made his debut for us just over a month ago.
He once cost AS Monaco €15m and has Champions League experience, he has shown his class recently by being one of our best performers.
A classy and composed player, with a keen eye for a pass in behind, he could be the kind of player to build the team around next season.
Traore had a chance to score against Rotherham when put through on goal but was brought down by the Millers' defender, resulting in a red card.
MC: Hull’s last away win came on January 2nd against Wigan - how do you think Rosenior will approach the match tactically?
AN: Rosenior will be immensely frustrated as the recent winless run hasn’t accurately reflected our performance levels.
We’re a very “nearly” side that has a solid defensive foundation, looking to control possession and get the ball into dangerous positions, so the fact that injuries and a lack of ruthlessness in the final third have prevented us from getting the goals and wins we’ve perhaps merited will be a real headache for Rosenior.
We have had nine clean sheets since Liam took over and have become very hard to beat, so we will look to continue in that vein.
MC: Which eleven players do you think he will select?
AN: GK - Darlow, RB - Coyle, CB - Jones, CB - McLoughlin, LB - Greaves, CM - Seri, CM - Slater, CAM - Traore, RW - Ebiowei, ST - Estupiñán, LW - Allahyar.
MC: Sunderland are without a win against Hull in four matches. What is your prediction of the score this time around?
AN: I’d like to be positive and try to predict a win, but we’ve got nothing to play for, and injuries are killing us.
We’re hard to score against, but can’t seem to score more than 1, so it’ll be a low-scoring affair. I’m going to say 1-1 draw, same as the return fixture.