Hull City at Nottingham Forest: Corry Evans determined to prove his worth
CORRY Evans, the quiet man of the Hull City dressing room, offered up no arguments when taken to one side by Steve Bruce two weeks ago and informed he would be dropped to the bench for the trip to Birmingham City.
Bruce was apologetic. Evans' form in the four preceding games, including a man-of-the-match display in a 1-0 win over Barnsley, deserved more admitted the Tigers boss.
Team-mates less cordial would have ranted and raved in the circumstances.
Evans, however, chose to bide his time and deliver a statement Bruce would not forget.
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After missing a 3-2 win at Birmingham and a 1-0 home defeat to Burnley, the Northern Ireland international seized his opportunity to pin a hugely competitive City midfield with a lively and efficient return in Tuesday's entertaining 0-0 draw with second-placed Crystal Palace.
Evans has imperfections, most notably lacking in stature when pitted against the Championship's more physical opponents, but Bruce will purr at the rookie's attitude as City head to Nottingham Forest this afternoon.
"Did I complain? No, it's the manager's decision and he explained things to me," said Evans, hopeful of retaining his place in City's midfield today.
"It was just for personnel reasons for the match itself because Birmingham were a big physical team.
"Everyone's disappointed when they don't play and I'm not alone. There's some excellent players here who can't even get on the bench at the minute.
"Your only option is to prove to the manager that you should be playing.
"The manager has his reasons but it's football, you accept it and look to make your point whenever you get the chance.
"You have to try and make a statement so he can't leave you out again. Hopefully, I did that the other night."
The pretty contest promised at the City Ground makes Evans a good bet to be retained by Bruce, but a tenacity within the 22-year-old is making him increasingly suitable for all occasions.
Three yellow cards this season, a figure that makes him the bad boy in the Tigers' tidiest of campaigns, have underlined a devilment in Evans' make-up. Looks, it seems, can be deceiving.
"I would never shy away from a tackle," he said. "I was always told if you go in soft, you come out hurt.
"To not come out hurt is to go in hard. I've stuck with that and won't change.
"Maybe in the air it's a bit of a different story but there's ways around it.
"The more you play against physical opponents, the more you learn little tricks to get around them.
"The Championship has a lot of big players in every team and it's up to you to deal with that challenge."
If Evans was able to accept his omission well a fortnight ago, he puts it down to a new understanding of the bigger picture.
As part of a City side that set up camp in the Championship's top six for almost three months of last season, Evans witnessed first hand the slow advances of fatigue on Nick Barmby's slender squad in spring.
Five consecutive defeats at the end of March would ultimately account for the good work of a season inside 18 cruel days.
Bruce has attempted to address City's shortcomings since his appointment in June and although it has been to the detriment of Evans' chances, the midfielder knows it was a must.
"It's a tough league where you can't play the same eleven every week," said Evans, who played in every game of Barmby's reign.
"By March last season, our squad was starting to look really thin and that's when we started to falter.
"It was tough to play in so many games and I felt it myself. Two games a week, every week, can be very demanding and it will catch up with you.
"We've got a much bigger squad this year that's full of quality."
While the strengthening in key areas has equipped City well for the battles ahead, Evans believes his own development will also aid a promotion challenge.
Since initially signing on loan from Manchester United in January 2011, a move made permanent four months later in a £500,000 transfer, the once unproven youngster has amassed 77 appearances. A century and further improvements are next on his horizon.
"I'm picking up experience with every game I play and feel like I've found my feet," he said.
"I was maybe a little bit tentative when I first came but now I feel as though I've grown into the team.
"I feel as though I have a big role to play.
"I didn't know it was that many games I'd played here but hopefully I can get to the 100 mark as soon as I can and keep going."
Maintaining progress is a target also on Bruce's mind as the final month of 2012 begins at Nottingham Forest today.
A run of 15 points from six games had dragged the Tigers within two points of top spot early last month, only for the points to dry up with just four gathered from a possible 12 ahead of today's trip to the East Midlands.
A 1-0 defeat to Burnley seven days ago and a goal-less draw with Crystal Palace combined to make it a "frustrating week" at the KC Stadium.
But after helping City to wins in their last two trips to the City Ground, Evans has faith a hat-trick can be completed today.
"It's been a frustrating week because you're trying to take maximum points from your home games.
"But I still believe that we'll be fine by the end of the season because it's a long year and we'll be around that promotion mix without doubt.
"Sometimes you come away from a tough ground like Forest, where we've won the last two years, is a great feeling.
"The style that Forest play will probably suit us more than a big physical team that lumps balls forward and looks for seconds.
"They've added decent quality this season and are having a good go. It'll be a tough test for us."