Steve Bruce tackles Phil Brown as Wigan seek back-to-back wins in the Premier League. The Tigers are part of the dogfight, and need more points on the board...
Last week's success in the north east against Sunderland was Wigan Athletic's first win in nine attempts. Despite the run of results, the Latics maintained their relatively lofty Premier League standing; Steve Bruce's side stand to finish in their highest ever league position.
The paradox of the past two months or so, since the home win against Spurs in January, shows in equal measure both Wigan's fragility and their ability to mix it with the big boys.
Aston Villa and Liverpool have both been short changed by the Latics in recent weeks, whereas points were surrendered to the likes of West Ham United, Manchester City and Middlesbrough - clubs with ambitions akin to, or less than, those at the JJB.
Steve Bruce has managed to juggle sales with improved signings too, with the likes of Ben Watson and Charles N'Zogbia taking no time at all to show what they can offer to a burgeoning side.
The club are mathematically unsafe from the drop, but that is surely a ridiculous speculation at this stage of the season. Seventh could yet offer a UEFA Cup place and that, instead of the Championship, is undoubtedly the goal.
Capital Gains And Losses
If Hull City are to stay in the Premier League, then London will feature highly on Phil Brown's roll-call of memories. Craven Cottage, White Hart Lane and the Emirates have been pillaged successfully by the league's favourite upstarts. However, those magnificent victories make up only three-eighths of the Tigers' win column.
Highs, likes those experienced in the capital, have been weighed down by horrible slumps, including a run of games without a win stretching from early December to early March, when they won at Fulham.
Phil Brown was shown to be as tetchy, restless and as exasperated as any manager at the wrong end of the table, following three opening months with a perma-smile on his face. His frustration was to the fore again last week, in London, when his grievance at being dumped from the FA Cup provoked a barrage of criticism against the world and its mother.
What has emerged is 'Spitgate', which the FA will be examining further. The ugly scene has threatened to make the Tiger mask slip, as patience and tolerence begin to tumble with league placings. Expectation levels may have shifted for Hull, from a relegation battle to mid-table security during the opening strokes of the season, but they have shifted back over the winter and spring. A frustrating fight against the drop awaits; Phil Brown and company need to keep their collective cool.
Mar 14 v Sunderland (A) Premier League WON 2-1
Mar 4 v West Ham United (H) Premier League LOST 1-0
Feb 28 v Chelsea (A) Premier League LOST 2-1
Feb 21 v Middlesbrough (A) Premier League DREW 0-0
Feb 7 v Fulham (H) Premier League DREW 0-0
Mar 17 v Arsenal (A) FA Cup LOST 2-1
Mar 14 v Newcastle United (H) Premier League DREW 1-1
Mar 4 v Fulham (A) Premier League WON 1-0
Mar 1 v Blackburn Rovers (H) Premier League LOST 2-1
Feb 26 v Sheffield United (H) FA Cup WON 2-1
Lee Cattermole is still suspended; the midfielder serves his second of a four game ban. Antonio Valencia is rated as doubtful with a hamstring problem.
Possible Line Up: Kirkland - Melchiot, Figueroa, Bramble, Boyce - Scharner, N'Zogbia, Watson, Kapo - Mido, Zaki
Kevin Kilbane, cup-tied in midweek, will return to the fold, as will Dean Marney, who was injured for the Arsenal game. Neither Michael Turner nor Anthony Gardner featured in Friday training and as such are doubtful. Ian Ashbee is hamstrung.
Possible Line Up: Myhill - Ricketts, Dawson, Zayatte, Kilbane - France, Geovanni, Halmosi, Marney - Manucho, Cousin
Players To Watch:
Ben Watson has been garnering praise from his manager since arriving from Crystal Palace in the winter and took a starring role in the Latics' win over Sunderland last week. The former England under-21 international is beginning to make himself a key player for Steve Bruce and will add to his reputation with another strong showing.
Returning to the JJB for the first time since leaving in January, Kevin Kilbane will be well received by the Wigan faithful. The Irishman has carried over his quiet consistency into the Hull shirt but will be eager to put one over on his old colleagues with a solid afternoon's work.
Hull City have arrested the slide in terms of performances, but results have not matched their efforts. Wigan, back to winning ways last week, can cut a confident figure on their day and have one eye on Europe. A clash between a continent-chaser and relegation fodder would, in any other season, be a home banker This however, is no ordinary season and it will be tight.
Wigan Athletic 2-1 Hull City
Peter Staunton, Goal.com