I hate playing Stoke. I’ve only seen us beat them once since 1992. There was another very memorable win in the league but given I didn’t go and missed Myhill’s brilliance that day, it doesn’t count. After a quiet end to the transfer window and a disappointing end to our unbeaten run last week, the visit of a bit of a bogey team and the absence of three centre halves made this one hell of a test.
City: Marshall, Kane, Kingsley, Lichaj, McKenzie, Henriksen, Stewart, Bowen (Milinkovic), Irvine, Grosicki (Pugh), Campbell (Martin).
The first half was drab. And that might be an over-statement. A real scrap between a team lacking the confidence to commit to attack given the makeshift defence and one looking confused by their change of manager and changes in personnel.
Stoke signed Sam Vokes for £7m on transfer deadline day and that put the fear of god into some City fans with our stand-in centre halves but Adkins countered it by pushing Lichaj and McKenzie up high – to half way at times – accepting that Vokes wouldn’t run them and he wouldn’t then be a target for long balls. It came undone once, when McLean ran off Kane early but otherwise, it worked beautifully although it contributed to the scrap in midfield with a lack of space and time.
As I found myself getting annoyed by the linesman’s inability to tell if the ball was in or out of play in front of the West Stand, I realised sod all was happening in the game. Lichaj and McKenzie were doing a great job of standing up to their threat and the midfield harried and blocked led by Kevin Stewart who has undergone the biggest transformation since Eric ate a banana. He’s physically stronger, he’s making quick decisions and he’s passing the ball like the player I saw running games for Liverpool’s U23s three years ago.
City improved as half time approached and Stoke were warned as Bowen met Grosicki’s brilliant deep corner and headed into the side netting. On 43, Kane was tripped by Martins Indi. The free kick was just outside the area, ten yards to the right of the D. It was just too wide to hit and the wall wasn’t far enough back. It needed something miraculous and it got it as Bowen stepped up and whipped it over the wall and inside the post. Magnificent. 1-0.
Typical City time as half the crowd rushed off to get the beers in and the rest stood basking in the glow of Bowen’s brilliance. Kingsley fouled Vokes innocuously and handed Stoke and immediate equaliser. Or he would have if David Marshall’s trailing foot hadn’t booted away Vokes soft penalty. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time a City keeper has saved a penalty against Stoke. Bound to be.
This was a depleted City team in defence facing a side who’ve just spent over £10m this week on Danny Batth and Vokes. If the quality they possess wasn’t obvious, their subs warming up at half time included £12m signing Afobe, £12m signing Berahino, £10m signing Ince, £6.5m signing Ryan Woods (a player I really like) and long-serving captain Ryan Shawcross.
For all that investment, they only threatened once in the second half. Lichaj was penalised for a good tackle. The free kick was chipped into the box, Henriksen went up with Batth and the ball looped off one of them, over Marshall and back into the keeper’s arms off the post. A deserved let off. At the other end Grosicki wasted a very good break and then led another charge lofting a cross up that Campbell volleyed into the side netting. The value of Grosicki and Bowen became obvious as the game stretched with their pace exploiting the space behind Stoke. Campbell was a nuisance for the whole game too. He ran himself into the ground, chased lost causes, battered defenders, upset the keeper and annoyed the ref. We’ve missed him.
Stoke put Tom Ince on for Bojan who’s key contribution had been his little signals before corners. I could only decipher that holding two arms aloft means “put it on Bowen’s head” and holding the ball in the air means “play a short one that Kingsley will intercept”. My favourite moment for the visitors though was when Etebo, who might be the worst player I’ve seen all season, sprinted to get the ball so they could take a throw in quickly only to pass the ball into the front row of the West Stand with his mate looking on aghast.
Ex-Tiger Ince had no impact on the game but got himself a great view of City doubling the lead. A nice move out from the back, left to right, eventually found Bowen, he put his foot down and burst at them, slid the ball in the channel for Campbell and he squared for Grosicki who just cantered into the box and knocked the ball in off the far post. 2-0.
Stoke made two more subs and needn’t have bothered. City made three to kill time. Ashley Williams got a booking for getting fed up of Campbell and slamming an arm in his face. Kane got the stadium MOTM award. It was Kevin Stewart for me closely followed by Lichaj and McKenzie. All three were tremendous.
This was the best result of the season in the circumstances and given the opposition. A tactical challenge won and a midfield battle conquered. It leaves City four points off the play-offs. It’s going to be extraordinarily hard to break into the top six. Not only do you have to overhaul the expensively assembled sides like WBA, Middlesbrough and Derby but there are other teams like ours, Bristol City and Blackburn, who are giving it a real go and are in tremendous form. Last week was a reality check. We just need to enjoy being closer to the top than the bottom, enjoy the improvement in our players and the trust placed in young players by our manager. Then what will be, will be.
Thursday, 13 December 2018
It has been a year (and four days) since Nigel Adkins took charge of Hull City for the first time in the wake of Leonid Slutsky’s sacking. The once happy, affable Slutsky wilted under a bad run of form and his time ended after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday with a hooded Adkins standing behind him holding a scythe.
|"Nigel Adkins is having a party, bring your scrabble, and your shandy"|
Slutsky was a brave appointment. Britain’s first ever Russian manager, a man of great pedigree having managed CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team. Unfortunately, a lack of support from our disinterested owners turned the relationship very sour, very quickly and while Slutsky’s team played with some style - they were defensively vacant. Slutsky had to cope with a depleted squad following relegation from the Premier League and replacements were signed too late and with little thought. The malaise that set in over a year earlier at the club went into overdrive during Slutsky’s reign. He never had a chance.
Adkins had to have witnessed it all having seemingly bought a membership at the KCOM that summer (making the total number sold = 1) so when he stepped in for the visit of Brentford last December ago, he assured he’d get little sympathy if the same issues that had haunted Slutsky played out again.
Adkins managed Scunthorpe and Southampton with distinction but following his harsh sacking by Saints had poor spells at Reading and Sheffield United. Those hard times didn’t affect his confidence or his irritating chirpiness. He arrived at City having turned his personality up to full “David Brent”.
Adkins recognised the defensive deficiency of the City squad, although so did Theresa May and she couldn’t manage a piss up in an Atom Brewery. City had been free-scoring under Slutsky and the goals dried up but so did the goals against with City conceding less than a goal a game in Adkins’ first ten in charge compared to almost two per game under Leonid. Despite that performances, particularly away from home, continued to range from average to downright abysmal with the capitulations at Bolton and Sunderland being particular lowlights.
Adkin’s post-match interviews have made him a figure of fun but the most baffling may have come after that abysmal performance at the Stadium of Light when he expressed his surprise at the performance because of how well the players warmed up. Fans spent the next few months gauging the pre-match preamble for clues as to whether it worth hanging around or best to head back to Princes Avenue for a pint in the warmth.
Ten days later, City drew 0-0 at home to Leeds United’s U12s. With the transfer window having closed with City signing only a cheap centre-half and a winger on loan, Adkins bemoaned the fact that the team put 47 crosses into the box without reward. I’m not sure whether he’d had a bang on the head and imagined the signing of a big striker or whether training that week consisted of Fraizer Campbell practicing headers while sitting on Nouha Dicko’s shoulders like some freaky pantomime act but quite what Adkins thought 47 crosses was going to achieve is anyone’s guess. Maybe he just got a “Best of Brendan Rodgers” tape for Xmas.
City avoided relegation from the Championship comfortably thanks do a very good Spring with the loan-signing of Harry Wilson proving inspired and a fit-again Abel Hernandez and interested-again Kamil Grosicki showing their quality. The brilliant 4-3 comeback win over Norwich, 3-0 win at Ipswich, 5-0 demolition of Burton on a tremendous evening at the Pirelli Stadium and crazy 5-5 draw at Bristol City were particular highlights.
There was little cause for optimism though as Hernandez and Michael Dawson were amongst eight first team players out of contract and the signs suggested that even home-grown Max Clark, perma-injured Moses Odubajo and Seb Larsson – who didn’t even have a club until the previous September – wouldn’t be staying. The club made no effort to keep David Meyler – the last man-standing from the most successful period in the club’s history under Steve Bruce. Everything pointed towards another summer of cost-cutting, bargain-hunting and beating the life out of a previously happy manager. Adkins saw the writing on the wall. Or he should have. He could have taken his own advice after telling Matt Dean in April “If you can’t do the maths, go and learn the maths”. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?
The summer passed as everyone could have predicted. Three loan players from Chelsea and Harry Wilson went back to their clubs and eight senior players left at the end of their contracts. Reinforcements were on loan like Todd Kane, cheap foreigners like Jordy De Wijs and David Milinkovic, low cost up-front like Reece Burke or, in fairness, an utter bargain like Eric Lichaj. Business was done earlier than usual and Kamil Grosicki wasn’t sold as expected while on deadline day, the experienced Tommy Elphick and Chris Martin came in loan to somewhat salvage the situation.
It still left Adkins with a threadbare looking squad and that’s been proven since with the involvement of many youngsters from the club’s U23 squad filling the bench or - in the case of Robbie McKenzie and Brandon Fleming – joining the now established Jarrod Bowen and Daniel Batty in the first team.
The season has been a predictable struggle. City won just 2 of the first 14 Championship games. As much as Adkins is dealing with a bad hand – it isn’t as bad as 2 wins in 14. Considering no-one was excited about his arrival in the first place, except himself of course, he throws a party if he finds a blue smartie, he was lucky to survive such a terrible start to the season. There are extenuating circumstances considering the squad he has been left with – one that can’t afford the odd injury or carry any player who is having a bad day (slash season, slash career) but that all comes full circle to the owners who have long since thrown their toys out of the pram and Adkins knew all about that before he begged for the job.
We’ll never know, given the silence of the Allams (geddit?), whether they had faith in Adkins or they just don’t care, but there were signs of improvement despite defeats at Sheffield United and Bristol City and that has been borne out with three wins and three draws from the last seven games. Two clean sheets in three home games suggest defensive improvement but that last three away games have an average score of 8-7 which utterly belies that! There are signs of stability though with City fairly set on a system now, with three hard working forwards, and players stepping in to cover who look like they’re close to the level of the players they are replacing.
With no sign of the rumoured takeover happening, there is no optimism that the club’s downward spiral will end any time soon. Fans are absent in their thousands. More players will leave in the summer at the end of their contracts (David Marshall, Evandro, Markus Henriksen, Ondrej Mazuch, Will Keane and James Weir are up while the club have an option on Campbell). The words “transfer window” have been crossed off the calendar in Adkins’ office. Any other manager would be ground down by the situation. Fortunately for Adkins, he’s perpetually chippy, and sees this as the start of establishing stability at the club (don’t say “strong and stable”, don’t say “strong and stable”).
For context, I asked fans on Twitter what the thought of Adkins first year and his prospects. 52% (of 453 votes) felt he could have done a better job. However, 56% (of 598 votes) would keep him as manager if a takeover happened. I think that sums up my feelings too. I do agree that results and performances could have been better when you compare our squad, depleted as it is, to those we are coming up against.
Yet considering the recent improvement and the overall lack of backing, I also think it would be harsh not to give him a few months after a new broom has swept the club clean of Allam stink.
Sunday, 16 September 2018
Hurrah, a City home win! The Tigers bested feckless Ipswich after 6 successive home defeats in all comps going back to Sheffield Wednesday in April and ended our worst run at home since 1992.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. The crowd was further evidence of the decimation of our football club. At just £9 (with a Match card) and £12 (without) in the North and South stands, there can be no suggestion that anything other than the hateful, hostile environment that has been deliberately fostered by our hideous owners is to “credit” for the lack of support. Officially the crowd was 11,650. Realistically, its going to be our first home league crowd under 10,000 since 9,460 saw Damien Delaney fluke a winner against Boston at Boothferry Park in November 2002.
On the pitch, the middle third of the game where City ceded control to a limited, naïve Ipswich team was a worry – as was the weekly gaffe as Kingsley chested down beautifully to set-up Jon Nolan in our box but, for once, we got away with it. Overall though, things looked brighter and, if nothing else, we’ve found another team who are worse than we are.
City: Marshall, Burke, Kingsley, De Wijs, Elphick, Batty, Henriksen, Bowen, Evandro, Kane, Campbell.
Despite the three centre halves, it was a flat back four for City with Burke at right back. The addition of Tommy Elphick was an excellent one (as Stevie Wonder could have told you three months ago to be fair) and his influence was obvious as he improved De Wijs dramatically and picked up the Dawson role of smashing diagonals towards the left wing admirably.
City came flying out of the blocks and the first half hour had much to admire. Batty and Henriksen were assured in midfield, won balls in their half and passed nicely. Kane was a bundle of energy on the left and Kingsley was unrecognisable as an attacking full-back. Campbell pressed high, they had no answer to Bowen’s pace and runs off the wing and Evandro showed off his outstanding touch and ability to hold the ball under any pressure.
An early goal settles most teams and it came on five mins as Campbell robbed Downes in midfield, slid through for Bowen and he dinked the ball over the advancing Gerken and beyond the attempts of the covering defender on the line. Campbell led the line admirably and his cushioned header should have put Kane through on goal but the ref saw a push while Fraizer’s attempted acrobatic volley turned into an air shot after Kinglsey brilliantly wriggled free on the left and lofted up a nice cross.
The game started to swing after Batty tweaked his knee blocking a clearance and after he succumbed and was replaced by Stewart, Ipswich took control. They were camped in our half, moved the ball well from wing to wing and put in crosses that caused mild stress but City generally dealt with. The lively Graham on the left wing gave Burke a tough test and he did OK but no better. After his earlier cock-up, Kingsley blocked well Edwards goal-bound half-volley and City went into half-time ahead.
The first ten minutes of the second half were as dull as I’ve ever seen. It did help City regain some composure although all Ipswich threat came from our inability to keep the ball. Stewart’s 20-yard 5-yard passes weren’t what was needed. City were dangerous o the break though and Campbell headed wide from Burke’s cross and then forced a save from Gerken after bowen turned down a better opportunity.
At the other end Graham’s shot was saved by Marshall after De Wijs had made a great tackle to dig out Kane who made a rare error. Kane looked like he was tiring but any chance of him taking a breather ended when Kingsley suffered a little knock and was replaced by Irvine with Kane going to left back and doing well against their sub Kayden Jackson.
There was definitely going to be another goal and it could have come at either end. Bowen went through on goal twice, found beautifully by Evandro and then Henriksen, but was denied by Gerken while a defender headed Evandro’s volley off the line. In front of the North Stand, Campbell met Graham’s corner at the near post and headed inches wide of the far post. Everybody breathe!
And breathe easier we did as Evandro chipped a pass through on the half-volley, Irvine raced on to it, held off Spence and slid home to clinch the game. The six fans in the East Stand ecstatically greet Jackson’s knee slide and there is pandemonium in the Upper West stand.
I’m jesting, of course. This was a good day. There were small positives all over the pitch and on the bench which looked well-stocked with options for the manager, for once. It wasn’t ground-breaking, it doesn’t mean we won’t be in a battle with the bottom six or eight in this division but while we wait these horrible bastards out – enjoyable afternoons at the KCOM are rare.
I said to the bloke next to me “HERE, DID YOU ENJOY THAT THEN? WHAT? SORRY? I CAN’T HEAR YOU, YOU’LL HAVE TO WALK CLOSER”
Monday, 6 August 2018
Was it nice to be back at the KCOM Stadium for one of the warmest nights of football I've ever seen in this country? To welcome Aston Villa to our 2/3 empty mausoleum? Eh, no.
Villa have had a torrid few months since their play-off final loss but already have new owners, a squad full of very good footballers and an experienced manager and are making plans to spend big money on new arrivals. Meanwhile City are 4 years into the Allam nightmare and showing no signs of waking up.
This game was never going to define our season but unfortunately did expose many of the weaknesses that everyone already knew we had. It's going to be a tough old campaign until those weaknesses are overcome by the players learning and learning quickly. I wouldn't say that the bubble of optimism has burst because, honestly, I don't think there was any in the first place.
The City players started the game well and lead early on when the Villa keeper, Steer, could only punch a free kick to Evandro and he somehow lobbed it into the corner with Villa defenders looking up into the bright sky accusingly [1-0]. It was lovely that the goal came during a minute's applause for Stanley Metcalf, the young fan sadly killed recently at just 7 years old.
Unfortunately, the lead didn't last long as Tommy Elphick headed in unchallenged by Jordy De Wijs at the far post - exposing the city back line and not for the only time in the game [1-1].
That back four contained three new signings and you could almost make that four with Stephen Kingsley, who played so little football last season. Burke and De Wijs did work hard together to try and build understanding and some of the basics were there in their positioning and work off the ball to manage Kodjia but De Wijs is a big clumsy oaf with the finesse of a bulldozer who is far less capable a footballer than he thinks he is. Lichaj had a very solid game right back but Kingsley made Elmo look like the sprightly flying wing he was about 5 years ago. Some City fans weren't fussed by Max Clark's departure. Idiots.
Despite Villa shading possession for the rest of the hald, City created the best chance when Campbell slid Bowen in behind but Steer was quick off his line and smothered. That was about as good as it got at either end. City went into the break having looked comfortable and having played some neat football particularly through the classy Evandro, Batty and Todd Kane. Kane was a very lively although neutered by playing on the left. Evandro is just head and shoulders above the rest of ours. He'll take possession of the ball anywhere, under any pressure and look after it. The others need to follow his lead, particularly Henriksen who disappointed.
The second half followed a very similar pattern for the opening quarter of an hour with Villa dominating the ball but City offering occasional threat on the counter attack. Sadly mistakes began to creep into our performance with De Wijs failing to control the ball on a couple of occasions- presenting it to them - and then Henriksen racing towards his own goal in a flutter and being very lucky to avoid gifting them a goal.
Just after City made changes to try and take the game to Villa with the arrival of another debutant in David Milinkovic and Nouha Dicko for Todd Kane and Fraizer Campbell, Villa were gifted a lead. David Marshall chipped a goal kick straight to Elmo and he slotted the ball into the bottom corner [1-2].
It gets harder and harder to defend Marshall whose City career has been a disaster since day one and this was another calamitous episode. The guy is absolutely cursed, I'm convinced. It's hard to see how he can possibly turn around such a faltering career here. It's sad because the guy has been a fantastic goalkeeper at times in his career but we've never seen it. It's also extra frustrating because City matched Villa, for all their "names", to that point with some comfort. Individual errors have crippled us for the best part of three years now. Something has to change.
However, conceding 2 abysmal goals was not enough for City so of course the defence stood and watched as Alan Hutton of all people ran through our defence like Maradona breaking apart Reid, Butcher and Co in Mexico and slipped the ball beyond Marshall (who was present in body but not mind after his gaffe) [1-3].
There was no coming back from that. You cannot concede such pathetic goals at this level and expect to get anything out of games. Milinkovic put in a spirited performance but the game had long gone.
Positives: Evandro is our brightest hope. Batty was assured. Kane is lively. Lichaj had a very solid game. Burke shows promise. Campbell was better than he's been all pre-season. Milinkovic was bright. Not every team has individuals the quality of Villa.
Negatives: We already look like we need to make changes when chopping and changing killed us last season. Marshall already. Kingsley has never shown anything. De Wijs is nowhere near. There is no sign of the 2/3 more signings we clearly need.
We should have stayed in the Gemmell.
Monday, 30 July 2018
It was nice to see Hull City take to the field at the Chadwick Stadium to face North Ferriby United for the Billy Bly trophy after all – for most of pre-season it didn’t appear that it would happen.
The game against Ferriby used to be the curtain raiser for pre-season and is always a great chance to see the players up close in a low-key environment. It’s a huge help to a lovely local club too. Sadly, it’s been eroded somewhat in reason years with City splitting the squad for the game and then sending only the U23s. Tonight saw a strongish mix of seniors and U23s take to the field and the rest of the squad in attendance to sign autographs and take pictures with delighted young fans. As the heart has been ripped out of club in recent years, it’s nice to be reminded of the joy the players and the club bring to youngsters who idolise them. Now sort out them concessions, City.
McKenzie – MacDonald – Curry – Fleming
Stewart – Sheaf
Milinkovic – Toral – Holmes
City bossed the first half, kicking towards the Allotment End as dark clouds rolled in from the west threatening a downpour that never really came, but created few clear chances for the first half hour. Johnny Saltmer, one of several former City youngsters in the Ferriby ranks, saved well from a Jon Toral pot-shot and just beat Fraizer Campbell to an underhit James Piercy backpass. Elliott Holmes jinked in from the right wing but Ben Leyland produced a great block. Saltmer saved from David Milinkovic but didn’t appear to know much about it and Adam Curry headed the resulting corner down and up onto the crossbar.
At the other end, James Nicholls headed Adam Bolder’s corner onto the top of the net in a rare foray forward for the Villagers. Milinkovic, who appears as frustrating as Kamil Grosicki with flashes of brilliance followed by moments of clumsiness then shot wide after exchanging passes with Brandon Fleming before outpacing Dan Nicholls, producing a lovely bit of skill on the bye-line and dinking a cross up for Toral to smash the bar with an overhead kick. The undisputed highlight of a mediocre half.
Half time: North Ferriby 0 Hull City 0
The second half started sluggishly for The Tigers and particularly for Kevin Stewart who was muscled off the ball by diminutive former City junior Luke Lofts who played in Jordan Harrison but his cross evaded everyone. Lofts, who was very impressive in midfield for the hosts then robbed Stewart again. I really want Stewart to come good and there is clearly a player in there somewhere but it’s terrifying that we’re watching him in pre-season against a side five divisions below City and he’s still getting caught on the ball. He picked up some useful second balls in the first half but generally didn’t impact a game he ought to be running.
Toral, who was probably the pick of the senior City players along with MacDonald, then slid in Campbell who went through on the right and somehow bobbled his shot wide of the post. Campbell then met a brilliantly whipped cross from Fleming but it went straight at Saltmer. Sub Jack Smith made an excellent block to deny Toral who then hit another overhead kick that went wide. Tyler Hamilton replaced Toral and, unconnected, City finally found a breakthrough. Fleming marauded brilliantly on the left and tricked his way inside Smith who fouled him. Milinkovic whipped in the resulting free-kick and Campbell flicked it in from around the near post [0-1].
Daniel Batty replaced Stewart and Billy Chadwick came on for Campbell either side of the couple of moments that decided the game. Dan Nicholls headed a Ferriby corner inches over the bad with George Long stranded and complaining that he was held leaving the goal open. At the other end Milinkovic again races away from Ferriby’s defence and though his cross evaded Campbell, Elliott Holmes arrived to smash it home beyond the far post [0-2]. It was a tidy finish and a nice moment for Holmes who is a lovely little player.
Full time: North Ferriby 0 Hull City 2
Negatives: Stewart’s deficiencies have been described. Campbell still looks half a yard short of his best and missed chances he’d have buried once upon a time. Jackson Irvine was kitted out but had to go home ill. That’s a huge shame.
Positives: Brandon Fleming was the pick for City with his reading of the play, calm use of the ball and quality in the final third. MacDonald, McKenzie and Curry were very solid and MacDonald seemed to relish being handed the “you hit diagonals” role from Michael Dawson. Milinkovic showed a lot of ability in patches, Toral looked sharp and Holmes deserved his goal. The relationship between fans and players was lovely to see and, hopefully, North Ferriby made a few quid out of the game too.