Hull City are well and truly in a battle for survival in the Sky Bet Championship with a return to League One looking like a real possibility as we enter the last nine games of the regular season.
The Tigers currently find themselves sat in 21st place and are only two points ahead of Charlton Athletic who are occupying the final place in the Championship bottom three. Hull appear to be in free fall so far in 2020 with their descent down the table in recent weeks being a real reason for their supporters to worry about another relegation. The club have only won once this calendar year with that coming all the way back on New Year’s Day when they beat Sheffield Wednesday by a goal to nil at Hillsborough.
Since that victory, they have gone on a run of nine defeats in their last 11 games and have seen departures of two of the club’s most influential players. Jarrod Bowen left to join Premier League outfit West Ham United whilst Kamil Grosicki swapped the relegation fight for a promotion push as he signed for West Bromwich Albion. Both players were crucial to Hull’s good start to the season with many people backing the Tigers to become dark horses for the Championship play-offs.
Grant McCann had already planned for the pair’s inevitable departures in the window as he brought one of his former players to the KCOM Stadium in an attempt to replace the goals and creativity they had lost. Marcus Maddison was brought in from Peterborough United after having impressive seasons in League One for Posh but also Mallik Wilks was brought in from Barnsley on a loan deal until the end of the season. McCann had worked with Wilks just last season as the pair were at fellow Yorkshire side Doncaster Rovers with Wilks helping Rovers secure a place in the end of season play-offs, they would eventually lose to Charlton Athletic.
There was a lot of interest in the Leeds United midfielder during the off-season with McCann wanting him to follow him to the KCOM, but Wilks decided that a move to South Yorkshire side Barnsley would be best for his career. Wilks struggled to make the desired impact at Barnsley, making just eight starts with a further seven appearances from the bench. He scored a solitary goal for the Tykes before being shipped on loan to Hull City.
Wilks was undoubtedly one of League One’s best performers last season hence an intense amount of interest in him over the summer, but it appeared that the Championship would be too much of a step up for him during his short spell with Barnsley. However, the stats would suggest that Wilks is having an impressive first year back in England’s second tier:
Wilks has been deployed in a number of different roles this season, ranging from one of the wide players just behind a focal striker to a central role of his own on occasions. During his spell with the Tigers, McCann has been utilising him down the right-hand side of Hull’s midfield in recent weeks with Wilks playing a huge role in getting the ball from one end of the pitch to the other. He has completed 126 dribbles this season which is very impressive for a player making the step back into the division. It suggests that he is trusted with the ball by his teammates as they turn to him to create something out of nothing, a similar quality of both Bowen and Grosicki.
The Englishman has also shown his ability to get shots of his own off at goal. He has hit the target 41 times so far this season, that averages out at nearly two shots on target per game (1.7). This would imply that there has been an emphasis from all of his managers to pick the ball up, dribble into a shooting position and have a strike at goal. He has found the net on four occasions so far this season and will be required to do so again for Hull as they turn to Wilks to fire them to safety.
His intelligence has also shown signs of improving this season both in and out of possession. The wide midfielder has made 28 progressive runs so far this season as well as making 61 forward passes.
This suggests that he is starting to get back into the habit of how McCann wants him to play. At Doncaster last season, Wilks would cause defenders all sorts of problems with his movement which would lead to his teammates having more space in important zones in the penalty area.
You feel, when the season starts again, Wilks’ form could be the difference between promotion and relegation for Hull. Where that leaves bottom-of-the-table Barnsley, who let him leave in January, is anybody’s guess.