FourFourTwo's Joe Brewin quizzes the Hull City stopper about the Tigers' recent upturn, meeting Peter Crouch this weekend and his manager's literary past...
Mike Phelan’s come in with confidence and given everyone a lift saying, ‘Look, everyone down there is there for a reason like us, because you’re not playing as well as you know you can'
Hi Michael. Things have picked up for Hull recently, with seven points from three games. What's changed?
We've had a little bit of fortune. I said at the start of the season that the margins between success and failure were fine. We’re on a good run of form scoring goals, and the results are going the right way for us.
A draw at Manchester City kick-started the recent run. How big was that one?
We came so close to winning the game, so we took massive confidence from that going there and playing well. But the big thing for me and the club was beating Villa, a team around us, which we’ve only really done against Palace and QPR. To get back-to-back wins in the Premier League is great, but against the teams around us was massive for us and stands us in good stead going into the game against Stoke.
So was there a bit of a stigma around playing the teams around you before?
You know that both teams are playing under pressure when you’re around the relegation zone, where no one wants to be. Mike Phelan’s come in with confidence and given everyone a lift saying, ‘Look, everyone down there is there for a reason like us, because you’re not playing as well as you know you can'. With the squad we’ve got at Hull I think we should be higher in the table, but you’ve got to earn the right to win football matches.
Has there been a noticeable shift in mood then?
The mood hasn't changed from two weeks ago before we picked up seven points from three games. The boys are together, we’ve got big belief fighting for one another. It’s fine margins, as I said. We’ve had a lot of teams score against us in the last minute, so it was nice to get one ourselves against QPR and be on the winning end. We keep this momentum going into Stoke.
Speaking of which, Dame N’Doye has hit the ground running. What are your first impressions of him?
He’s scored goals hasn’t he? Two games, two goals. We hadn’t scored for a little while, and confidence for strikers when you’re not scoring is hard [to find]. In his two games we’ve got two wins, and you know then that you can’t ask for any more from a striker.
He’s a great manager who gets the best out of players; he's big on team spirit and everyone coming together. He does his research on players really well
Three big games coming up against Stoke (a), Sunderland (h) and then Leicester (h). Would you feel safe doing well from those?
Before the City game we had Newcastle at home, put in a bad performance and it was a bad result. At City we picked ourselves up, Villa was a big result, as was QPR, and now we look to Stoke. After Sunderland on the Tuesday we have a week off and then we go to Leicester the following Saturday. The games come thick and fast but we keep trying to perform, pick up points and try to get as far away from the relegation zone as possible. No one wants to be there, but when you are you maybe play with a bit more fear. That’s the way football is.
So what’s Steve Bruce like to work under?
He’s a great manager who gets the best out of players; he's big on team spirit and everyone coming together. He does his research on players really well. Since I’ve arrived the lads have been great – everyone’s as one, including the staff and everyone else at the football club. We want to climb up this table and be established in the Premier League for many years. You look at Stoke when they first got promoted, and now they’re an established top-flight team. That’s something Hull are trying to build on and beat. It’s our second year in the Premier League after a few years out, and now it’s about making sure we’re established for many years to come.
How does Bruce get the best out of his players?
I’ve been very fortunate to work with a lot of good managers. Martin Jol was the first at Spurs – he gave you belief – and then Juande Ramos, with whom a lot of players struggled for confidence under; me personally and collectively. Harry Redknapp came in and lifted the players. You don’t become a bad player overnight but confidence is a massive part of football. If you’re low on it, it does affect you. You look at the squad the gaffer has assembled here, and 90% of the players are ones he’s brought in. He’s a manager who you know has put faith in you and brought you to the club. So you just want to repay that.
It's fair to say things haven't always gone his way with injuries and transfers. What’s he like under pressure?
He's no different. As a manager I don’t think you can show pressure and worry because if that trickles through to the players then it’s not going to help. He’s not changed from when we were struggling to going into training today.
He’s a published murder mystery author, you know. What do you make of that one?
I had no idea.... Wait, is he really?! [FFT: He’s written two books, Striker! and Sweeper!] I’m not sure I’ll be reading them…[FFT: The reviews are certainly mixed.]
He’s 6ft 7in so when the ball’s in the air you have to get tight to him; you can’t let him bring the ball down and bring players in
What’s Mike Phelan like to have around the place? Has he done anything in particular to make the players stand up and take notice?
Mike’s come in as assistant manager, having spent a long time at Manchester United and won trophies there. For him to arrive with the experience he’s had can only help us. He loves getting out and taking training , and he’s a good coach. When he first arrived you gave him respect. He explains what he wants clearly – he loves possession and keeping the ball – and that shines through in training every day.
You’re up against old team-mate Peter Crouch this weekend. What kind of a challenge is that?
I’ve played with and against Crouchy for many years. He’s 6ft 7in so when the ball’s in the air you have to get tight to him; you can’t let him bring the ball down and bring players in. He’s done it for many years and he’s a top player. I’ll probably chat to him after the game, he’s a good lad.
You’ve skippered the team in Curtis Davies’s absence, after having the armband at Spurs. What makes you a good captain?
I came to this club to play football. Curtis is club captain and has been for a few years now – he’s been player of the year twice – so it wasn’t about coming to Hull and getting the armband. It was coming to help the squad improve and play football. But I don’t change as a player from when I'm captain to when I’m not; you go on the pitch to try to perform, get players to follow you and lead by example. That’s something I try to do.
You’ve been in his position before not getting into the team – how do you deal with it?
You’ve just got to keep your head down and work hard. The lads are in good form at the moment but anything can happen with an injury, or someone’s form maybe dips a little bit. Curtis is a top pro who trains hard every day, and that’s what you’ve got to do – take it on the chin. Curt will do that.
Michael Dawson is one of the Under Armour team challenging athletes to take their training to the next level during the #EarnYourArmour campaign, which is now live across Twitter and Instagram @UnderArmourUK.