Saturday, 5 January 2013

Hull City 1 Leyton Orient 1

I won’t do a full report on the Orient game. Firstly because it was tedious. And secondly because I don’t want to be responsible for Tigers fans committing suicide while reading it. Instead, I’ll tell you everything you need to know in six bullet points.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Bruce, McShane, Dawson [M] Rosenior, Elmohamady, McKenna, Olofinjana, Cairney [F] Proschwitz, Simpson.

The System – Steve Bruce hasn’t got a lot wrong this season and this performance, or lack thereof, was down in large part to the players and their attitude and ability. Bruce did get it wrong though. It was obvious looking at the XI he picked that it was a 4-4-2 line-up shoe horned into 3-5-2. I can understand why he wants to play that way in this game because he wants the players to experience the system so they are ready to step in. That’s all fine but it proved a massive failure and we were much better in the second half once he’d admitted his mistake and changed to 4-4-2.

The Goals – It was a game of very few chances. It’d be hard for either side to argue that they deserved a win because neither goalkeeper was troubled all afternoon. Jakupovic tipped over from McSweeney’s 30 yarder mid-way through the first half and stood up well to deny Cook just before half time. Jones held McShane’s header from Dawson’s cross in the second half and then saved from a Proschwitz volley with ten or so to play. Orient were building a little bit of momentum prior to their goal, they had a cross that Cox came close to connecting with and then Mooney went through on goal and was fouled by Alex Bruce who should really have walked and conceded a penalty. Fortunately it wasn’t given. Soon after Cox crossed to the near post, Mooney got across the front and headed beyond Jakupovic [0-1]. The equaliser came in stoppage time from nowhere really. City had huffed and puffed before Dawson kept the ball on the left and found Cairney who put a peach of a cross on Proschwitz’s head and he nodded expertly into the far corner [1-1]. A touch of class out of keeping with the rest of the game.

The Crowd – The attendance of 8585 (I estimated 9000) was to be expected. With no disrespect meant, a home tie with Leyton Orient hardly inspires cup fever. And in fairness, there are a lot of other ties that would’ve attracted a larger away following than the 600-800 or so they brought. It was a tough crowd too with a lot of regulars missing. Certainly in my section of the East Stand there were a lot of people who don’t normally sit there, so much so that I thought I’d taken the wrong steps. They started to get on the backs of the players early frustrated at the sideways and backwards passing. There were boos when the ball was passed back to Jakupovic for the umpteenth time, sarcastic cheers when Proschwitz won a header and when Liam Rosenior got forward on the right. Rosenior got some stick at Blackpool too. From what I can gather, his only crime I that he isn’t Elmohamady. He’s not completely suited to playing as a wing back either. Regardless of what you think, if he’s wearing black and amber and giving it his best shot then you support him.

The Midfield – The midfield three of McKenna, Olofinjana and Cairney were an eye-opener after being spoiled recently by combinations of Corry Evans, Stephen Quinn, David Meyler and Robbie Koren. They were ponderous, they wanted too many touches, they didn’t work off each other, they didn’t make runs and they didn’t commit themselves for fear of not getting back into position. McKenna was our best midfielder in the past two seasons. However a combination of him knocking on a bit and the other options being vibrant, talented young footballers means he has no future here. Olofinjana was fine in little patches with the occasional rampaging run or fine pass. Too occasional though. Often he ran down blind alleys and passed to no-one.

Tom Cairney is still Tom Cairney. It doesn’t matter that he’s lost weight, he’s still what he is. The cross for the goal showed the quality he has in his left foot. You just see it so rarely. He doesn’t get into positions to harm the opposition. And he’s till slow. Steve Bruce obviously had no intention of using Quinn or Evans despite their presence on the bench. So much so that when he hooked McKenna, he gave a first team debut to Dougie Wilson. Wilson wasn’t massively involved but looked mobile, decisive and wasn’t afraid to have a shot at goal. I’d be surprised if we ever saw this midfield combination again. If it lined up in a league game, I think I’d just go home.

The Forwards – We’ve seen the Proschwitz/Simpson partnership before, at Middlesbrough and Blackpool for starters. It was about as successful today as it’s been before. Simpson was reasonably impressive. Easily the best outfield player at any rate. He dropped deep in the first half, held on to the ball well and turned and caused them some problems. When it came to releasing the ball or finding a team mate, he wasn’t so hot but he worked hard outside the box and looked our only chance of getting anywhere near the goal.

Proschwitz had a dire first half. He has a woeful second touch. I know that’s an odd comment but often he’ll take the ball in OK and then his second touch will take it away from him so he’s stretching or sliding to make a pass. He toe-poked an early chance wide having shown decent movement and no pace to get into the position. His other touches were generally heavy and awkward and he fought a losing battle in the air against Chorley and Baudry. In the second half, he showed a little more fight. The McShane half chance from Dawson’s cross came after Proschwitz robbed a defender and won a free-kick. It was cleared but Proschwitz again harassed a defender and won back possession for Dawson. He followed that with a run from deep, Simpson took away defenders to the left and he had Cameron Stewart open and screaming for the ball on the right. Instead of passing, he wellied a shot into row FF. His goal was beautifully taken and on the evidence of today and the Ipswich home game, he’s obviously effective if you get crosses into the box. The problem is that he’s poor outside the box so you are trying to build play and create good attacking positions with 10 men.

The Loan Ranger – Today saw the return of Cameron Stewart. It’s a year since he returned from injury in terrific style and was the subject of a £1.5m bid from Prickly Pearson. Since then, his career has nosedived spectacularly. He went to Burnley in August to get some games under his belt and failed to impress there. Today, he started at left wing-back, which is an unfamiliar role, and had a go at it. He attacked space well a couple of times and even put in a half decent ball with his left foot. When Brucie realised the 3-5-2 was useless with this side and switch, Cam moved to the right wing. Again, he got into a couple of decent positions but crossed woefully. Either sliding the ball to defenders or hammering it over everyone. It was the same old Cam; decent approach play and no end product. Worse was to come for him after the game however. Steve Bruce is not impressed with his fitness, thinks he’s overweight and seems pretty angry at Cam and at Burnley that he’s got into such poor shape.

The extra weight wasn’t obvious from the stands. It wasn’t like he came out in a shirt that had “Parkin” written on the back with a line through and “Stewart” scribbled underneath. He’s obviously been monitored by our coaching staff though and is carrying a bit too much timber for an athlete. Steve Bruce seemed to indicate that he’s not even in good enough shape to go out on loan. I’m still a fan of Cam Stewart. I still think there’s talent there that could be harnessed. Sadly, the guy is running out of chances to impress and he’s running out of admirers on the staff. He’s drinking in the last chance saloon, as they say, and needs to dedicate himself quickly. Otherwise, I think we’ll be talking for years about the biggest waste of talent my generation has seen at the football club.

So it’s off to Brisbane Road for the replay a week on Tuesday/Wednesday. The 4th round draw with probably dictate what sort of team Steve Bruce puts out. He was less than impressed with the one today. At half time he came out 5 minutes before the players and sat down on the bench, arms folded, until 15 or 20 minutes into the 2nd half. If the prize for winning at Orient is Middlesbrough away or something, these guys might get another chance. If it’s a glamour game, I think we’ll see a much stronger team.

The big news after the game was that the club have agreed a deal for Robbie Brady reported to be around £2.5m. Presumably that’s the final price and will be dependent on us hitting certain targets and getting promotion. It’s still a shockingly high price when you think that it’s nearly ten times what United charged us for Chester, Dudgeon or Stewart. Though as people pointed out on Twitter, the fee for James Chester was daylight robbery so they aren’t going to make that mistake again. The reported interest from a “Championship rival” this morning (probably Pearson again) will have pushed the price up. Brady is certainly an investment worth making but that price still seems high to me. Steve Bruce hasn’t done a lot wrong so far though, he’s been open and honest about everything and has, in truth, been a breath of fresh air throughout the club, blowing away the stench left in the summer. So for me it’s “in Bruce we trust”.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Blackpool 0 Hull City 0

The first trip of 2013 for the Tiger Nation was to Blackpool. A chance to clear the New Years’ hangover in the bracing sea air, munch fish and chips and watch 22 players running around a cabbage patch.  The pitch was the major topic of conversation coming away from the game. It was rubbish and it ruined the contest. It was patchy to start with but then cut up badly, quickly, leaving little mounds like mole hills all over the place. At one point in the first half, Liam Rosenior ran down the wing and a patch of turf around a foot square just leaped out of the pitch. Chuck in the fact that the pitch was small as well and you’ve got two teams struggling to pass the ball short on a pitch where hitting anything long means gifting it to the other goalkeeper. If it doesn’t sound like a recipe for a great game, it wasn’t. It was dire.

We were cheered pre-match by the news that City have agreed a fee with Sunderland for David Meyler. The info came from Radio Humberside’s David Burns who was situated in the media section right next to the away area in the temporary stand. The stand is pretty much made of chipboard. The padded seats were comfy though. A Blackpool steward told me they were expecting 1000 City fans but there looked at least twice that by the time kick-off came. Our other Sunderland loanee Ahmed Elmohamady missed out through injury which forced a single change from the Leeds game.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Chester, Faye, Hobbs [M] Rosenior, Brady, Evans, Quinn, Meyler [F] Koren, Aluko

Blackpool lined up with one striker, loanee Wes Thomas, two midfielders sitting deeper and three roaming in front of them. Despite it being freezing cold City had seven players in short sleeves and no-one in gloves. We’re real men. Blackpool’s Tom Ince had long sleeves and gloves. We shouldn’t be surprised. He’s a Premier League footballer in waiting. He’s quick, mobile, moves with grace and balance, finds space easily, has a lovely left foot and doesn’t need any invitation to hit the floor. Contact or no contact. The combination of packed midfields on either side and the small, untrustworthy surface meant expansive football was never on the agenda. Instead we watched both sides cancel each other out Neither was able to create space out wide. As the pitch cut up, both hit the ball longer which made for a terrible spectacle as defenders gobbled up the long balls. It was obvious that only a mistake or a moment of brilliance would open the game up.

A neat Tigers move through midfield led to Koren laying the ball off to Meyler in shooting range but his left foot shot flew well over and wide. Aluko then played a one-two with Evans but Baptiste just got a touch on the return pass to take it out of Aluko’s reach and through to the goalkeeper. As the half wore on, Blackpool built a little momentum. With City panicking and hitting clearances anywhere while Aluko and Koren looked on helplessly, Blackpool forced a couple of corners, throw in’s high up the pitch and a free-kick wide on their right. They didn’t work Jakupovic at all though. With half time approaching, City broke on a Blackpool corner. Aluko found Quinn on the left, Meyler and Brady raced through the middle unseen but Quinn never got the ball under control and the half-chance went begging. Most of the fans around me were keen to see Nick Proschwitz introduced at half time given that the game had descended into hoof-ball. Steve Bruce obviously felt the same and introduced Proschwitz and Jay Simpson for Koren and Aluko. I would’ve kept Aluko on ideally to work off one of the other two but Bruce explained afterwards that his calf was sore.

Simpson had a positive effect on the game immediately, holding the ball up well and wriggling in behind Blackpool. Proschwitz gave us a target and gave Blackpool something to think about but he’s just not a target man. He won one header, he didn’t hold the ball in their half and he’s not quick enough to cause any trouble in behind. Some might disagree but I just don’t hold out any hope for him at this point. I haven’t seen any improvement whatsoever and he’s so ineffective compared to Aluko, Koren and Simpson that I don’t think Bruce can justify using him. The only saving grace is that it’s rumoured that the reported transfer fee of £2.6m might be highly inflated. Hopefully inflated by about £2.6m.

While Simpson had a positive effect on proceedings outside the box, inside he missed the second best chance of the game. City worked a rare opening on the right wing, Rosenior crossed beautifully and Simpson met it 8 yards out with a weak, weak header that dropped into Gilks hands. Simpson then wriggled past Crainey superbly on the right and the defender pulled him back on the corner of the area. The referee didn’t produce a card. He should have, it was cynical and denied a good opportunity. Robbie Brady struck the free kick well but straight at Gilks who was tested again by an initially harmless looking shot from David Meyler that he had to tip around the post. We looked te most likely to win at this point. We had the bigger share of the ball, Robbie Brady was a threat every time he picked up the ball and Blackpool were offering nothing as an attacking force. They finally worked a shooting opportunity after an hour or so and Silvestre smashed well over when he should have done better.

Brady was our best outlet. Every time he picked up the ball in our half there came a little roar of expectation from the City fans as he ran at them from deep and with Quinn running off him, scared the life out of them. I’ve long felt that Blackpool are almost entirely a collection of poor to average footballers that Ian Holloway was working miracles to drag performances out of. On this evidence, I was right. They are awful. On a flat pitch designed for players bigger than Borrowers, we’d have murdered them. Had Robbie Brady made better decisions once he got himself into great positions with his superb approach play, we may well have found a way through. Unfortunately he chose the wrong option a couple of times and played a few poor passes. He was still our best attacker by some distance. To be fair to Brady, he was involved when the best chance of the game came along and was spurned by City. We worked the ball into the Blackpool box but the ball ran loose to Baptiste. He thought he could bring the ball out of defence but Stephen Quinn begged to differ. Quinn nicked the ball back off him and then cut it back to Corry Evans, supporting superbly, who, from 8 yards, smashed the ball a foot over the bar. You don’t get two chances like that in games this tight. That was the one. It summed up Evans day a little bit. He did a fantastic job of ferreting around nicking the ball off them and protecting his defence but in possession he was always off colour, often stretching and straining and producing wayward passes. One of those days I guess you’d say.

The game had finally come to life in the last quarter and City had two shouts for penalties turned down. Firstly Meyler nipped in ahead of Crainey on the edge of the box and then fell under the weight of the challenge. Steve Bruce was magnanimous enough to say afterwards that though he’s seen them given, he would’ve been disappointed if it was given against us. Nick Proschwitz then nicked in behind Alex Baptiste, who’d made a right hash of heading back to his keeper, and Proschwitz fell under a clumsy attempt from Baptiste to nick the ball back. That one would also have been a soft penalty but I bet it would’ve been given if it was outside the box. Alex Bruce then came on for Corry Evans in midfield, suggesting we were happy enough to take the point and get the hell out of there. It took a couple of “camera saves” from Jakupovic late on to deny Tom Ince from 20 yards and Nathan Delfouneso from 12 to ensure the points were shared.

The pitch obviously played a part in the game being poor but City also looked a little lacklustre after the mighty efforts of the double header against Leicester and Leeds. Liam Rosenior got a terrible slating from the supporters around us and there was a lot of chuntering about how much we missed Elmohamady. There’s no doubt that Elmo gives us a different dimension but how much impact he’d have had on that pitch is anyone’s guess. It also ignores the fact that while Elmo was terrific on Saturday, he has plenty of poor games too. Last year City fans were falling over themselves to tell anyone who’d listen that Rosie was the best right back in the league. Today I heard a few say they’d happily let him go. Defensively we were pretty solid. James Chester put in a few cracking challenges and Hobbs and Faye dominated aerially. Maintaining the shape and denying space was quite easy on that pitch. A third successive clean sheet has got to be the major positive to come out of the day.

This one will go down in the “instantly forgettable” category. At the end of the day though, we’re now two points clear of the chasing pack instead of one and we’ve got a tricky trip out of the way. We’re only the second team this season to stop Blackpool scoring at home and a point there is never a bad one. Cardiff, Leicester and Palace have got to go there in the coming months so here’s hoping the pitch gets worse. If that’s possible!

Happy New Year everyone!

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