Early start, numerous counties, car, 4 trains, 3 seasons, 8 weather fronts, loads of dosh, nil-nil draw. Can only be another Hull City away trip!
The draw was probably a fair result overall but The Tigers produced a strong second half performance that could have, perhaps should have, seen us take all three points. We arrived at The Valley unsure of what to expect given the drop off in performance at Blackburn. Charlton are a vibrant, confident young side who have a bit of experience in all the right places. The Valley is a nice enough ground but scruffy at the away end and faded by the sun in the home end. The Tigers warmed up in front of the traveling fans (Video here), probably around 1000 in number again, which meant we were in danger of flying balls from the shooting practice. Fortunately Jamie Devitt was missing today but Aaron “The Crippler” McLean was present and broke a woman’s nose. Aaron and the City staff were concerned and came into the crowd to check her out and let her keep the ball as a souvenir. In fairness to the players, everyone can see them firing shots at the goal in front of them and if you choose to sit and have a chat while it’s going on, you are going to be unaware.
The Tigers were unchanged from the Blackburn trip with Steve Bruce sticking with the 3-5-2 formation that worked well for an hour at Ewood Park. It’s a cautious approach but that’s to be expected away from home against a good side who are full of confidence:
City- Amos; Chester, Faye, Bruce; Rosenior, Dudgeon, McKenna, Evans, Koren; Aluko, Proschwitz
The opening half an hour was an even contest with just a few half chances. The front two provided the danger at either end with Aluko trying to work off Proschwitz and Bradley Wright-Phillips looking to get onto Yann Kermorgant’s flicks. Kermorgant is more effective than Proschwitz; he understands the target man role. He knows where the ball is going and he wins a fair share of headers and Wright-Phillips gambles on where the flick is going. Only the sharpness of Ben Amos stopped Wright-Phillips getting in behind. Proschwitz doesn’t play as a target man, he doesn’t win the ball in the air (yet) but he showed signs of linking up with Aluko on the floor. Both City strikers had early strikes on goal, Proschwitz’s tame effort fielded by Hamer, Aluko turning sharply but then smacking way over the bar. The major difference between the sides was the number of players that found their way into the box. When Charlton spread the play, four or five players charged into the box. The Tigers were much slower to attack and only Evans or Koren found their way up to support the striker in the box. Obviously as the away team we were unlikely to over-extend ourselves and leave a break on but this has been a problem for quite a while. McKenna and Evans provide a really good base in the midfield, they defend well and can keep the game ticking over but we don’t have the dynamism from midfield that other teams have. We don’t have it in reserve either.
Bradley Wright-Phillips hit a shot from distance that flew up courtesy of a deflection and was saved and superbly held by Ben Amos. The best chance of the half then fell to Sone Aluko. Alex Bruce played a ball up to Proschwitz who chested down for Evans. He slid Aluko into space on the right of their box and Aluko drew ‘keeper Hamer but shot straight at him. He had to score. As half time approached, Charlton had the best spell of the game with wicked cross after wicked cross causing havoc in the Tigers penalty area. It started with a ball to the back post where Pritchard caught out Dudgeon. Dudge leant on him enough to stop him heading for goal, no Charlton player could connect with his knock down and it was scrambled behind for a corner. The corner was whipped brilliantly to the far post but no-one connected and Rosenior poked it behind. The ball was returned into the box from the cleared corner and Leon Cort headed just over from a fair way out. Charlton attacked again and Kermorgant met a low cross on the volley but Amos saved (Looked a clear foul on Aluko in the build-up). Another superb back-post corner followed and Alex Bruce got in between two attackers to head behind. Excellent defending. The last corner was another fantastic ball in with pace and Leon Cort met it but headed wide. The half-time whistle brought welcome relief after that onslaught.
Half-time also brought the weather. Rain had been threatening for most of the first half but we’d only had a small shower. During half-time a tremendous thunderstorm arrived complete with near-torrential rain. It was fun to hear the oohs and aahs from the crowd as fork lightning struck behind the stands. It rained for most of the second half which meant the game was played in really tricky conditions. The ground was sticky and heavy, the ball held up in places and defenders and goalkeepers were almost caught out numerous times while reacting normally to abnormal situations. I thought we could have made a positive change at half time by taking off Evans or McKenna, sitting Koren deeper and adding another attacking player. As it turned out, that was unnecessary. The Tigers experience meant we took control of the game in the second half and were only susceptible to the odd counter-attack and some stupidly conceded set pieces. Charlton had a goal disallowed early on as Wright-Phillips raced clear of Faye, shot at Amos and Kermorgant turned in the rebound. Either no-one had noticed the linesman was flagging much earlier or he game a very odd offside against Kermorgant in the second phase of play.
Robert Koren then crossed from the left, Corry Evans was arriving and had a first time shot on but Proschwitz controlled the ball, took it away from goal and then turned and hit a tame shot. It just needed a little communication between the two. Aluko hit a decent shot that had the sting taken out of it by a deflection while the state of the pitch stopped Aluko breaking from our half when it held the ball up as he tried to run clear. The Tigers were well in control with McKenna coping best with the conditions and pulling the strings and Dudgeon and Rosenior offering a great option out wide. McShane replaced the injured Bruce and then Jay Simpson replaced Proschwitz who got a warm applause for his hard work in tough conditions. McShane was caught in the air by Kermorgant and if the arm to his face wasn’t bad enough, he landed on his head and neck and folded himself in half. It was a scary looking situation and he didn’t move at first. I commented that he was as “hard as nails” but that was more in hope that he wouldn’t be badly hurt. After a couple of minutes of attention he refused the stretcher that had been brought on, and not only walked off but finished the game.
Jay Simpson’s arrival gave The Tigers a burst of energy up front and he and Aluko pressurised their defenders and were almost rewarded for it. Simpson was rolled in down the right but scuffed his shot through two defenders and it wandered wide of the far post. In stoppage time Simpson bullied Cort off the ball (illegally) but shot straight at Hamer while a good Tigers break saw Koren find Aluko who out-paced the full-back but shot harmlessly at Hamer again. In the midst of all this, The Tigers had the best chance of the game. Of any game, in fact. McKenna found Aluko who played in Simpson on the left. He poked a shot at goal that Hamer saved but let go and Aluko had followed up for a tap in. As the Tigers faithful behind the goal celebrated prematurely Hamer somehow turned the ball wide from his prone position. That was a sickener.
While it was disappointing that we didn’t win the game it was a reasonable point that most of us would have taken beforehand. The return of four points from two games isn’t bad when you consider that two of the three games have come away from home and two have been against well-fancied sides and another against the League One Champions who beat Leicester City in mid-week. The Tigers first 7 games also contain games with more of the bookies favourites for promotion in Bolton, Leeds and Leicester. It’s a tough start that combined with bedding in new players and a new manager makes it imperative that everyone stays a little patient if we’ve not amassed a ton of points after 10 games.
The most encouraging thing from today’s game was that City finished strongly and didn’t drop off the pace after an hour as in the previous two games. We also created plenty of chances and looked lively around the box. Defensively we have a good unit who are gelling beautifully. Ben Amos was very assured at Charlton and the defence stood up to some incredible crosses, albeit with a bit of luck at times. We need to work on getting more players into the box and we must improve our delivery from set-pieces and wide areas. I’m sure it’s something that is being worked on and we’ve seen some variations from corners. We saw at Charlton though how vital good delivery is. They didn’t create a whole lot in open play but could easily have been a couple of goals up from set-pieces. It isn’t just our delivery that is the problem as we don’t even get near the good deliveries. We need to work on varying our movement in the box too while showing more desire to get on the end of the crosses.
Next up is Doncaster in the League Cup where we’ll hopefully use some of the players who’ve sat our recent games. Then it’s Bolton at the KC Stadium, another tough game. There’ll be some calls for Simpson to start after a couple of impressive cameos but personally, I’d keep him in reserve. I think McLean can harass defenders for an hour and introducing Simpson, who works his way into games very quickly, against tired defenders looks a very effective tactic. In terms of squad strengthening before the transfer window, I’d like to see us pursue Elmohamady from Sunderland as another wide option. I think we could also do with a midfielder with a bit more pace and adventure. I think we’ve got enough about us to be competitive but we’re just a tad short if we want to hit that top six.