Belfast Telegraph

Mike Phelan and Hull ready for a tough clash against Manchester City

Mike Phelan stressed the visit of Pep Guardiola's Manchester City to the KCOM Stadium on Boxing Day will provide his Premier League underdogs with all the motivation they need.

The Tigers, bottom of the table at Christmas, embark on a daunting fixture schedule with a clash against title-chasing City before another home game against Everton and a trip to top-eight side West Brom.

Hull's defeat at West Ham last week was their 11th of the season, but Phelan has been encouraged by his players' improved displays in recent weeks and will remind them of the rewards on offer if they perform on the big stage.

"It's hard to earn your chance to play in the Premier League, it really is hard," Phelan said.

"When you get there you want to enjoy the moment and enjoy every game. Every game is very competitive, it's very high quality.

"The attention to detail is far greater, but I think all these players accept these responsibilities.

"There's no shortage of that at this football club. They all understand their roles, they all understand that they want to be a Premier League footballer.

"What you have to do to maintain that status is work hard, listen, improve - all those things and it's better to do that against the big boys because if you do, you get a lot of praise."

Hull remain only three points from safety despite last tasting Premier League success on November 6, at home against Southampton, but Phelan refuses to set his players any targets.

"Our targets are to win football matches," he said. "Setting points can be the worse thing you can do because when you start to look at the points you set and you don't reach them, the pressure mounts and mounts.

"But if we can look at it as another game, we're in decent form and if we can be competitive in the next game then we can get some points."

Phelan must decide whether to recall club record signing Ryan Mason to his squad after the former Tottenham midfielder shook off the knock which ruled him out against West Ham.

Mason has struggled to justify his hefty summer price tag, believed to be around £12.5million, so far this season and it remains to be seen whether Phelan will pitch him back into the starting line-up.

Striker Abel Hernandez remains a fortnight away from a return to action following a groin injury, while goalkeeper Allan McGregor (back), defenders Alex Bruce (Achilles) and Moses Odubajo, plus Will Keane, Greg Luer and Brian Lenihan (all knee) remain sidelined.

Phelan, Sir Alex Ferguson's former right-hand man, said he is relishing his head-to-head with former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola.

"The challenge is great," he added. " You're coming up against one of the best managers and one of the best teams in the division.

"We know what our job's going to be and we know what a hard job it's going to be, but I think for this occasion we possibly have a full house, which is nice.

"No empty seats. Everybody behind the two teams and hopefully we can put on the performance that they're waiting for."

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