If the new Championship season began tomorrow – and Nigel Adkins must be thankful it does not – Hull City could field a starting XI that might just hold its own against Aston Villa.
Ahead of David Marshall in goal would be a back four of Eric Lichaj, Angus MacDonald, Ondrej Mazuch and Stephen Kingsley. Protection in midfield could come from Kevin Stewart and Markus Henriksen, while Jarrod Bowen, Jackson Irvine and Kamil Grosicki might best offer support to Nouha Dicko up front.
The only trouble is what lies beneath. Or, more to the point, what does not.
Although Jon Toral, Evandro, Fraizer Campbell and Will Keane could each make a case for being in that starting line-up, the lack of depth is what underlines just how much work City face in the month that leads up to facing Villa on August 6. The unpalatable truth is that something close to a whole new XI still needs recruiting.
Adkins has put a brave face to this point, extolling the virtues of a “first class… flying start” to pre-season, but he will know the reality is very different.
City have made a slovenly start. As a club they are again proving to be ponderous and hesitant. Others in the Championship already have a head-start as the Tigers dawdle through another summer of self-harm.
The landscape can change quickly with a rush of new blood but, as things stand, Adkins’ best efforts in preparing City for a new season are being undermined by the inactivity on high.
Lichaj remains the only addition to a squad that has been stripped of a dozen senior players since late April. There was momentary satisfaction when the American was unveiled on June 22, but that has gradually dissipated over the 12 days that have followed without further activity.
Steve Bruce, Mike Phelan and Leonid Slutsky will not be surprised by events at their old club after learning the hard way how Assem and Ehab Allam now approach the summer window, but the frustration felt by supporters is made no easier to accept by its sharp familiarity.
Although fans have come to accept the days of big money buys are over under the Allam family’s rule, it remains unclear why the club’s board keep wilfully handicapping the managers they employ. The approach is nonsensical.
Nedum Onuoha, Cedric Kipre and Conor Townsend have all been the subject of firm approaches from the Tigers yet none of those proposed deals have yet been concluded.
Business will come, just as it always does, but the longer City wait, the more preparations suffer.
City still need another two central defenders, a right-back, a left-back, at least one central midfielder, two wingers and a centre forward. Another senior goalkeeper would also be preferable even if it is not the priority.
The fact of the matter is that Adkins has had last season’s squad cut in half. Thirteen of the 29 players used by City in last season’s Championship are no longer at the KCOM Stadium and of the 635 appearances made in 2017-18, 324 were made by now former servants.
There has been a core of familiarity in the squad that began pre-season training last week but there promises to be minimal continuity running from one campaign to the next.
And that is what makes Adkins’ quest for new players all the more urgent.
Although Lichaj will have over a month to bed into new surroundings after completing his move from Nottingham Forest ahead of pre-season, opportunities for other new faces to integrate are slowly decreasing.
There are still another five days before City fly out to Portugal to begin a warm-weather training camp that includes friendlies against Maritimo and Braga but Adkins knows the sooner players are signed the better.
Campbell gave a telling insight this week into the value of a full pre-season. Signing up as a free agent last July, midway through City’s training camp on the Algarve, he admitted to have been at a disadvantage for much of last term when playing catch-up on his fitness levels.
Those pitfalls await any others who might arrive without already beginning pre-season. Missing one or two weeks might not be damaging but three or four certainly would be.
Bonds are also forged during pre-season as players spend lengthy periods in one another’s company. The more they train and play together, too, the greater the understanding.
City learned this the hard way last season. Not until the trip to Derby County in early September did Slutsky see all of his squad brought together and that 5-0 loss at Pride Park illustrated a team playing like the strangers they were.
The hope was that those new parts would eventually click into place and send City climbing up the table but as the pressures mounted, the bleak tone was set for the season.
There is ample time to change the direction that City are travelling in this summer, a full month in which to get this sparsely-populated house in order, but the squad currently at Adkins’ disposal is not fit for purpose.