Tom Huddlestone received his second red card of the season against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, which ruled him out of the Tigers clash with Chelsea and means he will miss at least six games this season through suspension. The 28-year-old was dismissed for the first time this season back in December at Stamford Bridge following a nasty challenge on Felipe Luis. That loss meant Hull had not won a game in nine with Huddlestone in the team, and in the four games he was suspended, Hull City won two. He returned to the team as soon as he had served his suspension and put in a poor performance as Hull lost 2-0 in the FA Cup Third Round, Hull lost four straight games with Huddlestone back in the side.
When Tom Huddlestone joined Hull City from Tottenham in August 2013, it was considered a real coup for Steve Bruce’s side. Although he was coming off the back of three difficult campaigns, his quality was known throughout the English game and there was an air of surprise when he joined the newly-promoted outfit. He began the season in excellent form, and was probably the outstanding player in the Hull City squad, alongside Curtis Davies. Inch-perfect cross-field passes became a regular feature of his game, in a season which saw some call for a return to the England set-up in Brazil. Huddlestone finally scored as Hull thrashed Fulham 6-0 at the KC Stadium, and along with his goal, the midfielder put in a virtuoso performance. Towards the tail end of the season his form dwindled, although he still managed to turn up when it mattered most, scoring a wonderful goal at Wembley as the Tigers came back to beat Sheffield United in dramatic fashion.
Huddlestone’s decline in form was forgivable though; after all, he played roughly as many games last season as he had in the previous three combined. The pre-season, it was hoped, would see a reinvigorated Huddlestone return to the fold and have the impact that he had when he first joined the club. This was not the case, both he and Jake Livermore struggled to replicate their form of 12 months earlier and when Hull traveled to Manchester United, Huddlestone was dropped for the first time in his Hull City career. His mindless red card at Chelsea compounded what was shaping up to be a frustrating campaign and when Steve Bruce’s men won two in four without him, questions were asked of whether the midfielder deserved to be such a nailed-on starter every game.
An injury-crisis meant Steve Bruce had little option but to persevere with Huddlestone, but a second red card of the season against Leicester ruled him out of Hull’s games against Chelsea and Swansea. Although the Tigers were eventually beaten by Chelsea, Steve Bruce described his sides performance as their “best in the Premier League”. A notable change in Hull City’s play when Huddlestone is not in the team is an increase in tempo, the ball is played through the lines much quicker and it was clear to see how often the Tigers got the ball into the feet of Dame N’Doye and Abel Hernandez. Whilst Huddlestone can often provide a calming figure in the centre of midfield, useful in retaining possession of the ball, he also has a habit of taking some of the sting out of attacking moves and allowing the opposition to regroup.
The Hull midfield was helped by Gaston Ramirez probably having his best game in a Hull City shirt, since joining on-loan from Southampton in the summer. It has also been commented that Jake Livermore seems to ‘up’ his game when Huddlestone is not on the pitch. There is no doubting Huddlestone’s technique. As a passer of the ball there really are few better in the Premier League. However, as a team, it would not be unfair to say that Hull City look a more dangerous outfit without arguably their most gifted individual. The dilemma, as I have named it, really is a dilemma for Steve Bruce though. Prior to his dismissal at the King Power Stadium, Huddlestone was enjoying his best run of form in probably a year, becoming a more dominant presence in midfield and creating chances further up the field.
Huddlestone will still be suspended in two weeks time when the Tigers travel to Swansea, but he will be available for selection a week later when the team face the long journey down to Southampton. Not only will he have to compete with Jake Livermore, Gaston Ramirez and David Meyler, who all impressed against Chelsea, but also the returning Mohamed Diame, who has been out of action for four months. Diame’s Hull City career started with a bang, four goals in his first five games means he is still the sides second top scorer despite such limited game time. Diame is back in training and expected to play at least some part at the Liberty Stadium; if he returns just half the player he was before his injury he will be one of the first name’s on the team sheet.
Steve Bruce is left with a tough decision then, although a dilemma in which he will welcome in a season which has been blighted by injuries. Mohamed Diame gives the Hull City midfield a different dimension, with his power and direct approach, and one suspects that if he really is fit, he is sure to start. The Tigers could also be without top scorer Nikica Jelavic for the remainder of the season and Diame is Hull’s best bet to grab a goal from midfield. Jake Livermore seems to have grown as the season has gone on and put in a tremendous performance against the league leaders. Gaston Ramirez was exceptional against Chelsea as well, popping up all over the pitch and displaying a real grit and determination that hasn’t always been apparent during his time in the Premier League. One problem for Ramirez is that he is likely to be vying with Mo Diame for that attacking midfield role, as one suspects Steve Bruce would see playing both as a little too offensive.
David Meyler may be seen as the most expendable, although it would be harsh on the Irishman who has put in a number of industrious performances which have proved pivotal in Hull’s mini-revival this season. A lot will depend on Hull City’s performance away at Swansea in two weeks. Gaston Ramirez could quite easily revert to type, making Steve Bruce’s decision a lot simpler. Whilst this is not the first time Mo Diame has been scheduled to return to action, only for his injury to flare up once more and rule him out. Hull City face a difficult run-in in their bid to avoid relegation, after Swansea and Southampton they face Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Burnley, Tottenham and Manchester United; it will certainly be interesting to see how Steve Bruce sets his side up for these most pivotal games in the teams season.