Like Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United, Nigel Adkins is working his own wonders as Hull City boss

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Like Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United, Nigel Adkins is working his own wonders as Hull City boss

Marcelo Bielsa is a head coach deserving of the acclaim headed his way this season. The astute, deep-thinking Argentine has transformed Leeds United since his appointment in June, turning a limited mid-table team into league-leaders and promotion favourites.

Another victory today, Leeds’ eighth on the spin, would guarantee Bielsa begins 2019 as the one to catch but the final visitor to Elland Road in this calendar year demands increasing respect for working his own wonders as Hull City boss.

Nigel Adkins is overseeing a remarkable revival in these closing days of 2018.

An overhauled team that had been unable to reach double figures until late October has found 21 points from its last 10 games and only once, when losing to Nottingham Forest a month ago, have they been beaten.

Hull City manager Nigel Adkins celebrates the Tigers win over Swansea City
Hull City manager Nigel Adkins celebrates the Tigers win over Swansea City

The purposeful climb to 15th in the Championship does not command the same attention as Leeds’ ascent to the summit but Adkins is producing a run of results not seen from a City side since Steve Bruce’s final campaign ended with promotion to the Premier League.

The 13 points collected from the last five games already make this month the club’s most productive since April 2016. Find a fourth consecutive win and it will match the Tigers’ rousing finale to 2012.

Avoiding defeat at Elland Road might also be enough to see Adkins crowned the Championship’s Manager of the Month. Bielsa leads the way with five wins from five in December but City’s turnaround under Adkins has arguably been more impressive given that the month began with the Tigers languishing inside the relegation zone.

A period that has transformed City’s season is also serving to dramatically change perceptions of Adkins.

The 53-year-old was fast losing the faith of supporters when a 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United on October 6 left the Tigers bottom of the table. Wins could not be bought back then and counterparts in the Championship’s lower reaches had been pushed overboard by impatient employers.

Hull City head coach Nigel Adkins
Hull City head coach Nigel Adkins

Perhaps the protracted talks over a takeover bought Adkins time not afforded to others but the once beleaguered head coach has certainly made the most of his opportunities at the KCOM Stadium.

Adkins has led a turnaround most thought was beyond him. The narrow 1-0 win away to Bolton breathed life into flattened lungs and seven days later came the 1-0 victory at West Brom.

The 3-3 draw away to Birmingham and a 2-0 loss at home to Nottingham Forest saw defensive shortcomings prove costly but the current run of six games without defeat has been nothing short of outstanding for a team that had braced itself for a season spent fighting against the drop.

Draws against Norwich and Millwall sandwiched a terrific win away to QPR before Brentford, Swansea and Preston were all brushed aside in a winning run not produced by a City side in almost three years.

Only Leeds, winners of their last seven games, are ending 2018 with a greater bang than the Tigers but Adkins’ work in December is rivalling that of Bielsa.

Marcelo Bielsa, manager of Leeds United
Marcelo Bielsa, manager of Leeds United

There is nothing fortunate about City’s turnaround. The improvements were seen before the wins began coming when drawing with Middlesbrough and losing narrowly and late on away to Sheffield United and Bristol City. The home game with Preston, too, ought to have been twice over.

That point, roughly a quarter of the way into the season, was when this pieced-together squad first began to come good consistently. A greater understanding was forged between players and Adkins’ disciplined approach has slowly borne fruit.

There have also been signs of a siege mentality building. Adkins was only too happy to highlight where pundits had forecast his team would finish back in August, shaping the image of City becoming an underdog this season.

Adkins still had to retain confidence and belief when the wins were so hard to find but momentum is a clear ally at the halfway mark of the campaign.

“Has it surprised me? No, because we work so hard,” said Adkins after the Boxing Day win at Preston. “You’ve got to give people belief but it’s about being a team.

Hull City manager Nigel Adkins checks the scoreboard in the Tigers' 1-0 win over West Brom
Hull City manager Nigel Adkins

“We’ve got quality but you’ve got to have that resolve, that character, grit and determination. We conceded just after half-time but we recovered and looked a massive threat coming forward. We’re in a good place with the momentum we’ve got.”

Adkins has not always looked the right fit for City. For all he achieved in saving the club from relegation in his first year, his upbeat character has tended to jar with a group of supporters dragged down by what has too often been a joyless club to follow in the last two and a half years. Fans, or a section of them, had grown tired of his unrelenting positivity.

Yet the turnaround led by Adkins in recent weeks has primarily demonstrated his undoubted skills as a coach. City have become a better team with Adkins at the helm, both in defence and attack, and shown the clear potential to keep on climbing the table.

January, now days away, is unlikely to bring the support Adkins requires to really kick on as City boss but, just like Bielsa along the M62, he is ending 2018 in charge of a team transformed by his studious methods.

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