The Tigers returned to the KC Stadium tonight for the only home pre-season friendly of the summer. It’s hard to believe the stadium is approaching 10 years old as it still looks as good as ever. It is only now though that I find it’s starting to feel familiar when you return after a summer off. The only unfamiliar thing about the stadium tonight was the pitch which looks excellent following the extensive work over the summer to repair the root base and relay the turf.
There was barely a game to report on in truth. Neither side over-stretched themselves with fitness and familiarity the key aims and trying to win the game far from the thoughts of both managers. Both teams played neat football and there was the odd late challenge but the only competitive edge on show came when the teams felt wronged by the referee. Grant Holt spent about 6 years complaining in the first half after it was adjudged that he fouled Dudgeon (admittedly a rather strange decision.) Goal mouth action was rare. The Tigers failed to create anything you’d call a chance while Norwich only threatened from a few set pieces and the occasional break away in the first half. In the second half, they created nothing too. I’m reasonably sure that the only serious save either ‘keeper made came when Ben Amos tipped over Russell Martin’s deflected cross.
Hull City lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. Sone Aluko played on the right wing and Robert Koren on the left with two players up front. It was a bold approach in theory but rarely in practice. Liam Rosenior made his first appearance of pre-season while 4 players made their first appearance for City at the KC. We lined up:
Amos; Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, Faye; Aluko, Koren, McKenna, Cairney; Proschwitz, McLean.
It wasn’t too dissimilar to the team and the system that we started last with at home to Blackpool. Barring any new signings and Matt Fryatt it looked a probable starting line-up for the Brighton game on August 18th. Despite the lack of attacking threat, it was a much better performance than those against Grimsby and Doncaster recently. Norwich didn’t particularly look superior to us; it looked like two Championship teams in first gear. Their midfield probably had a bit more energy about it than ours but otherwise we were well matched.
Ben Amos looks a good kicker of the ball and is an athletic shot-stopper. He doesn’t look comfortable when he’s expected to come and collect the ball but hopefully if he can avoid a Gulacsi-esque early season nightmare he’ll grow into the role. Rosenior is short of fitness and only played half a game. He was replaced by Paul McShane at half time and McShane had a decent half. He very nearly played the best pass of the game to get Proschwitz through in the second half and then moved inside and held his own against Simeon Jackson. Personally, I’d go with McShane in the cup game on Saturday and give Rosenior another week to build up his fitness. Dudgeon got forward well, has a lovely first touch and flew into some terrific tackles. He just doesn’t have Andy Dawson’s positional sense and it was obvious that most of the few successful Norwich attacks from open play were in behind him. It’s going to be an interesting decision for Steve Bruce this one. I think Dawson is just about the better option at the moment but persevering with Dudge will probably benefit the club in the long term.
James Chester looked as good as ever. He and Faye made a promising unit and battled well in the air, took up good positions and made brave blocks when necessary. Late in the second half Tom Cairney broke out in midfield and Chester went racing down the right wing as at Cardiff last season. Tom ignored him. He deserved a round of boos for that. The only real worry defensively was that we looked a little shaky at set-pieces. Nick Proschwitz went back to help out while Sone Aluko was left upfield for any potential counter. You might remember Steve Bruce’s Wigan employed a similar tactic to devastating effect in our second ever Premier League home game with Antonio Valencia in the Aluko role. In defence of our defence it should be pointed out that Robert Snodgrass was the architect of most of their set pieces. One of the rare occasions we looked like a poor defensive unit came at Elland Road last season which I’d put down as being the fault of Peter Gulacsi and Robert Snodgrass in equal measure. Danny East also came on for the last 20 minutes or so and impressed. He needs a good season out on loan. He’s going to be a fine player.
Paul McKenna played his usual game but with a lack of desire to win the ball back that we’ll see in competitive games. He’s perhaps a little bit short of peak fitness after missing the first few friendlies. He got 88 minutes tonight which will do him the world of good. Tom Cairney continues to be the frustrating footballer on the planet. He’s got such a good left foot, he shows tremendous poise in possession and he picks out nice passes but he lacks dynamism and is as good as useless without the ball. He’s got a real opportunity to cement a place in our midfield with Evans’ injury and I really hope he can take it. Robert Koren continued to wear the captain’s armband and didn’t look too upset to be playing off the left wing. He linked up well with Dudgeon and worked hard enough. He put in a ridiculous swerving cross in the first half that flummoxed the Norwich defence and John Ruddy and, unfortunately, Nick Proschwitz. Sone Aluko took a while to settle. His first couple of crosses were well over-hit. He relaxed eventually and gave a decent account of himself. He’s got great pace which he used to skin Marc Tierney a few times and when he came inside he dribbled brilliantly on occasion. He didn’t have his shooting boots on and there’s no evidence of him being a great crosser yet but he’s certainly exciting. He was replaced by Cameron Stewart who looked lively enough too but is struggling a little for luck. He made two good challenges in our half to help out his mates but both resulted in better passes to Norwich players than the man in possession could have made! He’s also still unwilling to just get the ball into the box. On one occasion he turned Martin four times (brilliantly) but didn’t deliver a ball in.
I’m hoping Matt Fryatt is just being held back a little after his knock because for all of Aaron McLean’s energy and endeavour, we don’t look threatening without Fryatt. T felt quite odd seeing McLean up front after all this time. He battled well and made himself available. There was also some evidence of City “getting the ball forward quicker” (not hoofing it, honest) which worked much better when McLean was on to challenge for the ball. I’m still fascinated when I see him beat a guy 5 inches taller than him (in this case Ryan Bennett) in the air. He’s got a phenomenal spring. Proschwitz did OK with the bits and pieces of the ball he picked up. He’s got a good touch, he looks quite strong and lays the ball off simply. He also looks to get in behind the defence whenever possible and whilst he isn’t quick, he’s pretty mobile. He was unlucky not to latch on to a few things in the box while when his best chance came after Cairney had picked up Fryatt’s lay-off, burst towards goal and laid the ball into his path, he just looked to have been on his heels a touch and couldn’t reach the pass. He seemed a bit frustrated at times that the ball wasn’t played longer, quicker or that when it was, it was nowhere near him. He looks like he’ll be a decent option once we learn his game a bit more. Fryatt was lively enough off the bench as was Jay Simpson. At the very least we seem to have some genuine options at the moment and the ability to change games and to change our system if required.
Steve Bruce seemed frustrated after the Hartlepool game that we play too much football and don’t get the ball into attacking positions quick enough. That worries me a little. I was proud of the way we played football last season and I could name two or three performances that were better than any I’ve ever seen from Hull City, even from our greatest team ever back in 2008. I’m worried that we’re ripping all that up and starting again at this stage of the season. I’ve nothing against Steve Bruce and I’m sure his words will be agreeable to a lot of supporters. I quite liked the continuity we had last season though and I believed in Nick Barmby’s way of playing. The Championship is going to be tougher than ever this season. There’s barely a poor team in the league and at least 18 clubs will fancy that they can make the play-offs. I have a nagging feeling that we could end up with a poorer standard of football, a similar goal return and a worse finishing position than last season. Although given that pre-season is rarely a good form guide going into a new season, I remain fully behind Steve Bruce. I can’t shake those tiny seeds of doubt though. However hard I try.
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