Ray of light for Hull City as FA Cup offers Tom Cairney contentment and new hope
CAUSE for optimism has proved difficult to source for Hull City during a bleak seven days at the KC Stadium.
If a 3-1 defeat to lowly Sheffield Wednesday was first to prick the Tigers' feel-good bubble last weekend, the loss of influential stars Sone Aluko to injury and Ahmed Elmohamdy, recalled back to parent club Sunderland, have only added to a deepening sense of unease.
However, amid the darkening mood came a ray of light from the left-foot of Tom Cairney on Tuesday night.
Firing an extra-time winner to finally terminate the plucky challenge of Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road in a 2-1 triumph, the midfielder provided the week's lighter moment by booking an FA Cup fourth round tie at home to Barnsley a week tomorrow.
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First will come a trip to Peterborough tomorrow as the Tigers bid to maintain their grip on an automatic promotion place, and Cairney continues to find a happy outlook for 2013.
"We'd have taken this at the start of the season and I'm sure any fan would too," said Cairney.
"Second in the league in January and into the next round of the FA Cup, everything's going pretty well.
"It's down to us now, we can't look at anyone else.
"We've got to get our heads down and if we can get a similar amount of points in the second half of the season as we did in the first, that should see us into the Premier League. There's no bigger incentive than that."
While tomorrow's trip to London Road is threatened by the inclement weather set to grip England over the next 24 hours, a further danger that would cap a trying period, City were able to warm the souls of 613 travelling fans in East London this week.
Cairney's 117th-minute strike helped the Tigers avoid an upset in the capital and also secured a place in the last 32 for only the third time in 24 years.
Manager Steve Bruce has not disguised his intent to prioritise the club's Championship promotion bid, but Cairney believes ongoing success in the FA Cup can have its own benefits.
"It was important to get back to winning ways," he added.
"The last three results weren't great and winning is always a great habit to get into. We didn't do it as prettily as we'd have liked but a win is a win and it gives us a bit of belief.
"If the games keep coming and we keep winning, it can be a great season. The FA Cup is a big deal. Every real fan of football loves it. It's a very special competition.
"I've seen it as two big games for me, especially having been out for such a long time with my injury. I'm still getting back to match fitness, I suppose, so the 120 minutes will have done me no harm."
Two FA Cup fixtures against Leyton Orient have been Cairney's only starts since August following a knee ligament injury, but his path into City's Championship plans remain blocked by the form of midfield trio Corry Evans, David Meyler and Stephen Quinn.
Bruce has previously stated his desire to see Cairney come to the fore in the second half of the season and the youth product says he is ready for his chance.
He added: "I gave my all and just to be back out there is a great thing for me. It's made me realise just how much I missed it when I was out.
"Getting the boys through to the next round felt great.
"I know I might have to bide my time. The boys are still second in the league and they've been on a great run.
"They've been great to watch and that gave me the extra drive to get back playing. With the sort of players we've got, I might need to be patient but I feel ready for whenever I'm needed."
If the FA Cup has been a platform for Cairney to impress, the same challenge has been accepted by Nick Proschwitz.
After rescuing the Tigers when his late equaliser forced Leyton Orient to a replay two weeks ago, the German was on the mark again with a stunning goal to open the scoring at Brisbane Road.
The absence of Aluko for up to eight weeks could now invite Proschwitz to spearhead City's promotion bid after an indifferent start to his English career.
"Sone is a big player for us with a lot of ability," said Cairney. "He'll be a big loss but let's hope Proschwitz or another of our strikers can fill his boots.
"Nick's goal was magnificent. The first touch and then the finish, it was very special. We've seen that a few times in training so it's not a surprise to see him doing it in a game.
"I was delighted for him. It's not easy coming from a different country.
"None of us can relate to how tough it must be. It's a different style of football and he's getting used to it now. Once a goalscorer, always a goalscorer."