It has been a disappointing start the season for Hull City and the Tigers’ lack of bite has seen them slide down to 20th in the Championship, just one point and two places above the relegation zone.
There are some positives to take but it has certainly not been the opening to the campaign that Grant McCann will have hoped for when he took over in the summer.
McCann will likely be particularly frustrated by the narrow margins by which they have missed out on results.
Just one of their defeats has been by more than a one-goal margin, while the Northern Irish coach must be ruing squandered opportunities in close games, such as Kevin Stewart’s wasted chance against Millwall and Jarrod Bowen’s missed penalty against Blackburn Rovers.
The Tigers look short of an in-form striker, with summer signing Tom Eaves not yet having repaid the manager’s faith in him and having failed to find the net for his new club.
One player who is repaying McCann’s faith is Stewart, who looks to have rediscovered his mojo for the Championship side.
The midfielder joined from Liverpool in 2017 in a deal reported to be worth up to £8 million but has been mostly underwhelming in his previous two seasons at the KCOM Stadium, making just 26 Championship starts in total in that time.
Stewart arrived having impressed in brief flashes for the Premier League side and having been heavily praised by former manager Jurgen Klopp, who described him as “the best challenger in the squad”, “really ugly to play against” and a “good player”.
Hull fans could be forgiven for thinking they have been watching a different player over the past two seasons, bar a brief but impressive run in the side around the start of this year, but things seem to have changed in the 2019/20 campaign.
The 25-year-old appears to have been galvanised by McCann’s arrival and the faith that the new boss has put in him.
Stewart has started every single one of the Tigers’ Championship games this season and has been described by his manager as “the heartbeat of the team”, and those are not just empty words of encouragement.
According to WhoScored, The defensive midfielder ranks third-highest in the Championship for average tackles per game with 4.2 and second-highest for average interceptions per game with 3.7.
Stewart has also not been afraid to show the “really ugly” side to his game that Klopp had praised him for, leading the league in average fouls per game with 3.2.
That is not to say that the Englishman’s game is one dimensional, only three players in the Hull squad have made more passes per game than Stewart, while he also ranks fourth in the squad for pass success with 74.3%, according to WhoScored.
The 25-year-old has rediscovered his mojo under McCann and is repaying the faith that has been shown in him – if he can keep up this sort of form across the season he will have made some serious steps toward repaying the significant fee the Tigers paid for him two years ago.