Saturday, 8 November 2014

Burnley H (TC Match Report)

There have been many, many grounds through the years on which City fans have been left angry and embarrassed. None quiet so often as Turf Moor. The scene of probably the most heart-breaking night in the club’s history continues to torment us and the latest defeat at the hands of Burnley, a ninth in our last eleven visits, was so bewilderingly inept that describing it in words that won’t offend is almost impossible.

It has to be said - Burnley are rubbish. That’s not bitterness. Just cold, hard fact. They haven’t gone ten Premier League games without a win because of some cruel quirk of fate. They are a second division team playing top flight football. Sean Dyche picks a team in a basic 4-4-2 formation. They hit “percentage” balls into areas they think Danny Ings pace might trouble the opposition and if the opposing defence meet the ball first, they work incredibly hard to be first to the second ball. Defensively they are well drilled and their wide players become secondary full-backs the second they cough up position (which is pretty often).

Fortunately for Burnley, limitations and all, Hull City are like a pension scheme for mediocre teams in wretched form. Remember Sheffield Wednesday starting the 2007/08 season with six straight defeats until salvation turned up in black and amber. Or ten years earlier when Doncaster Rovers, one of the worst sides in English football history, ended an eight match losing run at our expense. Even just a year ago we provided the stepping stone on which Crystal Palace built their path to safety.

Once again in just-about-Lancashire we demonstrated our unerring ability to be even worse than anyone could possibly predict. It’s not about ability. This team has recently earned great praise for its ability to match Arsenal and Liverpool on their own ground. This was a submissive performance from a side that demonstrated the distinct lack of a backbone. They didn’t compete with Burnley. They barely even tried. In the key midfield area in particular, Burnley drew a battle line and we didn’t fancy it at all.

The Tigers (3-5-2): Harper; Chester, McShane, Davies; Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Livermore, Diame, Brady; Aluko, Hernandez.

Steve Harper returned in goal showing that Steve Bruce would literally play a one-armed man over Jakupovic while Aluko came in for Ben Arfa. Presumably to provide the pace to threaten defenders in behind and to stop Hernandez cutting the lonely figure he did against Southampton a week ago.

Danny Ings missed the first chance of the game after forty seconds. He out-muscled McShane and latched onto the first of many hopeful balls over the top but flicked the ball over Harper and wide of the far post. Burnley were edgy in possession and presented the ball to Aluko who ran at the last-man, Shackell, but saw his shot blocked. At the other end James Chester picked up a booking for a clear obstruction on his old mate George Boyd who’d megged him. Mark Clattenburg was super quick to flash the yellow card which set the tone for his afternoon. He’d flash nine more.

On nineteen minutes, the chants of “City till I die” only encouraged Burnley who forced a corner. Stephen Ward headed it down at the back post and Ings turned and hammered a goal-bound shot only for Harper to keep it out with an incredibly strong right wrist. The rebound was also poked goalwards but Robbie Brady kicked it off the line and despite the hopeful appeals from the home side, Mark Clattenburg’s watch didn’t signal a goal.

A goal for either side didn’t look remotely likely in the remainder of the half. Burnley gathered some momentum gaining confidence from their increasing dominance in the middle of the park and the sporadic Tigers’ attacks. Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, not for the first time this season, were useless without the ball and pointless with it. Mo Diame, so impressive recently, was equally wasteful. Diame has a languid style that looks a thing of natural beauty when he’s on top of his game but protrudes an aura of laziness when he isn’t. Our wing-backs were being neutered by the hard working Burnley wingers Arfield and Boyd dropping back to fill the spaces they love to exploit and Aluko was twisting and turning his way to nowhere in particular.

An uninspiring half came to a close and we wished we’d stayed in the cricket club next door and had a few more pints. The second half against Southampton was a major disappointment and whatever malaise the players fell into during that half time break at the KC was proving tough to get out of.

Just two minutes into the second half, Steve Bruce decided he’d had enough of waiting for the players to lift it and prepared two subs. It was odd timing so I assume he’d send them out with the threat of making changes after five/ten minutes and almost immediately regretted it. With Stephen Quinn ready on the touchline and Gaston Ramirez tying his laces – Burnley made him pay for not making the change at half time.

Danny Ings saw a shot blocked by Davies after Burnley too easily manoeuvred their way to the edge of our box. The block rebounded to right back Kieran Trippier whose beautiful cross was thumped home by the forehead of Ashley Barnes. A player without a Premier League goal scoring for the side without a Premier League win. Forget Children In Need – this was charity.

They didn’t particularly deserve to lead but we deserved to be behind. Annoyingly they’d scored from a lovely right-wing cross after we’d spent forty-five minutes watching Elmohamady refuse to try such a thing. The expected City response came slowly. Hernandez headed straight at Heaton after Elmohamady rescued a Diame “shot” by the corner flag. Ben Arfa replaced Chester and after several minutes of the players looking utterly mystified as to where they should be playing, we settled into a 4-4-2 with Ben Arfa and Quinn wide and Ramirez up front with Hernandez.

Quinn was the pick of the substitutes and found a little joy on the left hand side producing one particularly brilliant cross that flew across the six yard box and away without anyone in black and amber gambling sufficiently. Ben Arfa produced one brilliant touch but otherwise flattered to deceive. The same was true of Ramirez who continues to bring absolutely nothing to the table. He’s a delightful footballer who floats with or without the ball and has an exquisite touch but it just doesn’t translate into anything particularly effective. Unfortunately things that produce goals like crosses, shots or well-timed runs into the penalty area aren’t on his agenda. If you were wondering why such a cultured player has struggled so much at Southampton – this is why.

On 63 a Robbie Brady free kick caused a scramble in their penalty area and a towering Curtis Davies header leads to Hernandez turning and firing a shot into bodies. A half-hearted handball shout is waved away and as the ball flies up into the air Davies tries an overhead kick at the far post. It was an idiotic way to kill a promising attack against a jittery defence. Within a minute Davies is involved at the other end as Burnley scream for a handball decision against him. That is also waved away but Davies goes down, leaves the field and, after eight minutes of thinking about it, doesn’t return – leaving us with only ten men for the remainder. Davies wanders sheepishly past the away following holding his back, presumably hurt trying that ridiculous bicycle kick.

The ten men took the game to Burnley, who were happy just to whack everything clear and reorganise, but didn’t have enough to penetrate the defence. The only clear cut chance fell to Hernandez who met Robbie Brady’s excellent cross at the near post but could only get a flick on the ball when he looked primed to score. The rest of the game was spent kicking lumps out of each other with Marney, Ings, Brady, Livermore and Jutkiewicz picking up bookings in the last five minutes alone and joining Chester, Ward, Duff, Shackell  and Hernandez on the back of Clattenburg’s yellow card. He’ll be sharpening his pencil before next week. Assuming he’s not dropped for rushing home to watch X-Factor or something.

There was a massive amount of inevitability about this result. I tweeted weeks ago hoping that Burnley might beat Everton or Arsenal to avoid going into this game winless. I did imagine that certain home victory coming as the result of a terrible refereeing decision, a breakaway goal or some other terrible miscarriage of justice. I didn’t expect it to go down as a result of our own cowardice.

Both players and management will struggle to look themselves in the mirror today. With the possible exception of Paul McShane, Robbie Brady and Steve Harper’s good arm. There’s nothing wrong with being out-thought. But when you’ve come second in the brains department to well-organised but tactically limited side – there is a problem. Like Southampton last week, Burnley found it too easy to castrate Elmohamady (not literally) and their two midfield players outworked our three. In the absence of Nikica Jelavic, Bruce is struggling to think of a way to get the best of Hernandez and give the team a focal point.

These signs are worrying. This is clearly the most talented group of players we’ve ever had but as a team we play in fits and starts and haven’t put together a strong ninety minutes too often. That’s why we only have eleven points from eleven games and we are looking at a relegation battle. I’m not panicking just yet. I’m nervous though. A few more performances like we’ve seen in the last game and a half and we’ll be deep in the mire. And that makes the possibility of a trip to Turf Moor next season a reality. And I can’t cope with that. I bloody hate that place.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Crystal Palace home - Ratings Report

Steve Harper – 6

Would have enjoyed his quiet afternoon having conceded 13 times in his previous 5 games in goal for City. He dealt well with corners underneath his crossbar and made a spectacular save from Bolasie’s fine effort late on. Generally looked calm – sometimes bored.

James Chester – 7

Great to see him back in the starting line-up after an undeserved demotion. Had a solid game with a few hiccups. He was tasked with getting up Bolasie’s arse as soon as he got the ball and stopping him from turning. Their Congolese winger escaped a few times early on but as the game progressed, Chester got the measure of him and cut out any threat at source. His first two passes of the second half were atrocious but generally he helped us keep the ball better than we have recently.

Michael Dawson – 8

Demonstrated the qualities he was signed for with a gritty defensive performance. Things were rarely hairy at the back but when they were, Dawson threw himself into every challenge, made key headers and looked much more comfortable in the back three than he did at Villa. His favourite long diagonal out of defence is still hit and miss but he did have some success with it at times.

Curtis Davies – 6

Still doesn’t look quite himself, I don’t think. I don’t know if he’s had his nose pushed out of joint not being the senior defender or whether he’s apprehensive about protecting Robertson. His pace kept Fraizer Campbell under wraps but he’s not attacking the ball in both boxes with the vigour we’ve seen previously. Hopefully the win and clean sheet will take some of the pressure off and allow him to concentrate on his own game.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 8

Typical marauding Elmo performance that absolutely terrified Joel Ward. The wing-back role suits him so much. It frees up some of the defensive responsibility and allows him space to work without a full back over-lapping. Some better full-backs find ways to snuff him out but against mediocre opposition, he’s dangerous. He produced an array of crosses and cut-backs such as the deep ball Jelavic headed over early on, the early diagonal ball in that Delaney nearly put into his own net and the cut-back from the bye-line that Davies skied in the second half.

The only disappointment is that we become too one dimensional in looking for Elmo. It seems to be an unwritten rule that no-one else crosses from the right if he’s on – they just wait for him to arrive.

Tom Huddlestone – 6

Another below par effort. He kept the ball well well at times but was guilty of lacking ambition too often. As a team we passed sideways and backwards too much in the first half and then resorted to trying to go long in behind them. I think it’s up to Tom to change that mentality, to try and play the ball into the feet off the strikers and the generate some forward momentum. As with most of the calendar year, he’s playing too methodically and isn’t hurting the opposition with his passing.

Jake Livermore – 5

Finished the game strongly and made Jelavic’s goal with a good challenge and an excellent through ball. Before that he’d looked a player lacking in confidence and happy to offload the ball as soon as he got it. He needs to find some belief in himself because he had a decent game against Man City and grew into this one. He’s the fittest guy on the pitch most weeks, he wins the ball back in good areas and he can carry it or pass it well. He’s just not playing his game – he looks like someone who’s just caught a hand grenade without a pin.

Mo Diame – 6

His least impressive game for us so far but still showed everyone what we’ve been missing from midfield. As guilty as the rest of the midfield of not taking the game to them enough in the first half. He was always looking to link up with Robertson which worked well but when it wasn’t on, he just slowed attacks down. What he does bring is a willingness to get into box and a fantastic sense of timing. For his goal, he laid the ball off just before Hernandez shot was blocked and then as Robertson lined up a cross, he made a tremendous run towards the six yard box and was rewarded for it.

Andy Robertson – 8

Another fantastic display from the young man. His pace takes him into excellent attacking positions and he’s single minded once he gets there. He wants to put the ball into an area where strikers can attack it. Like Elmo, he produced a variety of crosses mixing it up with balls fired hard and low. He’s not afraid to take a shot on either and confidence exudes from every pore. Defensively he can be naïve and the majority of the opposing threat still comes down his side but that’s improving with each game.

Nikica Jelavic – 7

It’s great to see his hard work being rewarded with goals. He doesn’t always look the most technically gifted player but he has an incredible work ethic and defends from the front. With or without the ball he’s constantly on the move. I’d like to see us play to his feet more often because our best moments in the game came when we played off him rather than giving him 60 yards balls to fight for. Took his goal with real aplomb.

Abel Hernandez – 5

We need to be patient with him because he’s short of fitness and adapting to a new club in a new league. He looked lost in the game and was rarely any help to Jelavic. He didn’t win headers or get hold of the ball. Most surprisingly he looked really slow. He got outpaced by Damien Delaney in the first half and then had the chance to run the ball into their empty half on the break from a counter but was caught really quickly. We’ve seen enough to suggest he’s dangerous around the box and hopefully the rest of his game will come with fitness.


Gaston Ramirez – n/a

Stylish player with a lovely left foot but you can see why he’s not made an impression in English football. He’s lightweight and doesn’t play with a lot of urgency. An ideal substitute in the game though as he helped hold on to the ball when in a winning position.

Liam Rosenior – n/a

Smart decision to take off Robertson, who still tires late in games, for a solid defender like Rosenior. He kept Puncheon quiet and helped ensure they didn’t create any momentum.

Alex Bruce - n/a

The Gaffer:

Steve Bruce – 8

Finally went back to the 3-5-2 which has seemed an obvious move for a few weeks. I’m not sure why he dispersed with it really. Strangely went back to it on the back of a very good performance last week. In fact I’d go as far as to say we played better last week and got nothing than we did this when we won. The difference being the standard of the opposition.

He made good substitutions at key times. We were perhaps lucky to nick the second goal. We certainly weren’t going for one. Several attacks prior had fizzed out as we chose to keep hold of the ball and slow the game down rather than commit anyone. We also had two set-pieces were all three centre-halves stayed back. I suspect Bruce feels we’ve been naïve in games were we’ve led and wanted to ensure that we maintained defensive shape at the expense of attacking intent.

When it works, credit is due.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Assem Allam press conference: More questions than answers

Things Assem & I agree on:

He has a simple mind.

It is best the FA don’t allow teams to be called Red-bottomed FC.

He should ensure the club goes to a good home.

There are some backwards councilors in Hull.

He is not a “dictorial”. I’m not sure anyone is. Maybe whoevers job it is to think up new words?

Things I know are bullshit:

The official name of the club has not contained the word Tigers for 110 years. The company name has contained the word since 2000. No-one else in the world thinks the “official” name is Hull City Tigers apart from Assem Allam.

Arsenal Gunners is NOT different to Hull Tigers. It’s the same crime.

24 hours from December 1st or April 9th is not September 10th. No matter how many times you claim it is.

This is definitely related to his fall out with Hull City council – either directly or indirectly due to the stadium being out of his reach.

There is no “silent majority”. Only silence.

Changing a club’s 110 year old name is a misuse that the FA should protecting against.

Assem Allam does not have the money to make Hull City a top five club. I admire ambition but that is just crazy. Changing the name will not change that. In Ehab Allam’s wildest dreams, the name change is worth £10m per season. Or half a Manchester City substitute’s wife’s dog’s signing on fee.

The only instability at Hull City it that being caused by Assem Allam.

He will not give the club away. A £70m+ debt is not free.

There was no secret sponsor willing to pay £1m extra per season depending on the name change unless Assem Allam is calling his son a blatant liar?

Fans do not contribute financially to the club. Nonsense. We’ve paid a lot of money for a lot of years.

There are no Premier League clubs between Wigan and Rotterdam or Newcastle and Birmingham.

Things I couldn’t explain using Google, Siri or the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Where did David Burns get his jacket from?

Is it better to by fishing tackle or takeaway food? What if you don’t live near a lake?

What Nissan have got to do with anything? Are they the mystery sponsor?

If a tree falls in the KC Stadium on a non-matchday, would anyone hear it?

If not being a “global” club in the Premier League is unsustainable – how do the other 14 survive?

Would Red-bottomed FC wear shorts or just thongs?

If only the club “Hull City” is for sale, is he keeping the council?

Who would buy KFC from the KC Stadium on a non-matchday?

What IS the problem here?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Nations represented in black & amber

How many different nations have been represented in Black and Amber over the years? Using the 209 FIFA members as a guide, I started to make a list. Place of Birth or International representation counted as criteria.Where more than one, a few of the most famous examples are used.

Count  = 50.

Algeria - Kamel Ghilas
Angola - Rui Marques, Manucho
Argentina - Adrian Caceres
Antigua and Barbuda - Marc Joseph
Australia - Jason Van Blerk, Richard Garcia
Austria - Martin Pusic
Bermuda - Kyle Lightbourne
Bosnia-Herzegovina - Eldin Jakupović
Brazil - Geovanni, Adriano Basso
Canada - Patrick Dickinson
Cayman Islands - Jamie Wood
Côte d'Ivoire - Yann Ekra
Croatia - Nikica Jelavic
Denmark - Viggo Jensen, Henrik Pedersen
Egypt - Amr Zaki
England - Raich Carter, Ken Wagstaff, Dean Windass
Faroe Islands - Julian Johnsson
Finland - Mauno Rintanen
France - Bernard Mendy
Gabon - Daniel Cousin
Germany - Nick Proschwitz
Greece - Stelios Giannakopoulos
Grenada - Delroy Facey
Guinea - Kamil Zayatte
Guyana - Leon Cort
Honduras - Maynor Figueroa
Hungary - Peter Halmosi, Peter Gulacsi
India - Paddy Mills
Italy - Vito Mannone
Jamaica - Theo Whitmore, Ian Goodison, Marlon King
Netherlands - Richard Sneekes, George Boateng, Jan Venegoor Of Hesslink
New Zealand - Heremaia Ngata
Nigeria - Jay-Jay Okocha, Seyi Olofinjana
Northern Ireland - Alan Fettis, Roy Carroll, Stuart Elliott
Norway - Joshua King
Peru - Nolberto Solano
Portugal - Sergio Leite, Ricardo Vaz Te
Republic of Ireland - Ken De Mange, Caleb Folan, Paul McShane
Scotland - Ian McKechnie, Billy Bremner, Paul Hunter
Senegal - Ibrahima Sonko
Seychelles - Kevin Betsy
Slovenia - Robert Koren
South Africa - George Wienand
Spain - Antonio Doncel, Daniel Ayala
St. Kitts and Nevis - Kevin Francis
St. Lucia - Colin Alcide
Switzerland - Eldin Jakupović
Trinidad and Tobago - Clint Marcelle, Tony Warner
Tunisia - Tijani Belaid
USA - Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan
Wales - Boaz Myhill
Zambia - Iain Hesford

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Aston Villa away - Ratings report

Allan McGregor – 6

Not a lot he could have done to prevent the goals or get anywhere near Villa’s pair of strikes that hit the woodwork. Wasn’t forced to make a save otherwise. Distribution was a disappointment with his long kicks going nowhere near Jelavic.

Curtis Davies – 4

Easily the worst game I’ve seen him have for City. He seemed unsure of where to play on the right of the defence, he didn’t get tight on anyone at any stage and he made woeful attempts at tackles. He was limping around a bit leading to a half time withdrawal but that could easily have been a ploy to hide his shamed face.

Michael Dawson – 4

Atrocious. That’s my first impression of Michael Dawson in a City shirt. I’ve seen some poor debuts before now but it’s hard to remember one as poor as this. He was slaughtered for pace by Delph in the first minute or so which set the tone. He rarely got anywhere near them and ended up on his arse more times than I could count. There was no cohesion with the other two centre halves and he compounded a woeful defensive effort with some of the worst long passing you will ever see. Unfortunately it was from a short pass that he gifted Villa possession 30 yards out leading to their second goal. Anyone got Andy’s number?

Paul McShane – 5

A seriously average performance in which he passed poorly and failed to communicate with players around him leading to some Villa chances. And yet he was easily the best of the three centre halves. That said, it’s hard to see him not being the one to make way for James Chester who served his one match suspension at Villa Park.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 4

Played as a wing-back in the first half and a winger in the second. In both positions he failed to test their left back Aly Cissokho choosing to pass the ball tamely inside instead of making his trademark runs in behind. That lack of balls and passing the buck was commonplace throughout the team today. Had a very poor game defensively too and left Davies exposed on the right – and he was poor enough on his own.

Tom Huddlestone – 3

I’d make a fairly confident bet that he hasn’t had a worse game in his career. He was slow with and without the ball but particularly in possession where he wanted time he was never going to get. Villa aren’t that special but they are young and fit and they smothered him. He made stupid, panicky decisions around his own box time and again and delivered woeful set pieces including one into the side netting that would disappoint a schoolboy player. When he started passing into touch every time - Bruce hauled him off. He wouldn’t get a Scotland call-up on recent form. The England stuff is nonsense. He’s behind Westwood and Delph in the queue for starters.

Jake Livermore – 4.5

Improved immeasurably once Huddlestone went off. Before that he was playing as the deep lying midfielder. He didn’t get out of his own half when we had possession and without – he couldn’t tackle a pattie butty. In the last fifteen minutes or so he was instrumental in our attacking play, sprayed the ball around confidently and tested Guzan with a lovely curling effort which dragged his rating up a touch.

Stephen Quinn – 5

Not as effective as he’s been of late. Rarely got up in support of Ince and Jelavic and too keen to offload the ball to someone else, just like his midfield colleagues, which meant we went sideways and backwards for too often. He did manage once or twice to find some space on the left and linked up well enough with Robertson but it just didn’t happen enough.

Andrew Robertson – 6

The best of a bad bunch I felt. Offered an outlet on the left at times in the first half but was much more effective later in the game when he over-lapped Robbie Brady. When he got into good positions, his crossing wasn’t anywhere near the standard he’s set so far though. Defensively he wasn’t tested as much as others as Villa tended to attack down our right but he showed nerves when dealing with hopeful balls and got in McShane’s way occasionally.

Tom Ince – 5

Another quiet game for Ince who is struggling to make a real impact. In his defence, he was again feeding on scraps and he did at least attempt to make something happen with the ball at his feet. He was taken off in the second half when there were many less effective players who could have gone instead - Huddlestone and Elmohamady for starters. I would have left him on and added Brady and Aluko behind Jelavic with Livermore and Quinn sitting deeper.

We’re seriously missing someone who can run beyond defences. Jelavic is the furthest striker forward and all of our play is behind him. Ince hasn’t played right up top since the Stuttgart friendly when he got beyond Jelavic brilliantly. This meant a ridiculously easy game for their centre halves Vlaar and Senderos. In the few minutes City did press we saw what a nervous team Villa are in defence so it made the previous 75 inexcusable.

Nikica Jelavic – 4

Spent his afternoon battling Senderos and Vlaar in vain. The service was rubbish but he was ponderous in possession and didn’t look as lively as last week. Credited with the goal which looked like an O.G. to me but I’ll stand corrected once I’ve seen it on the telly. Conceded possession for the first Villa goal with a clumsy touch from an admittedly hopeless ball out to him.


Liam Rosenior – 6

We were much better with him at right back although Villa did spend most of the second half allowing us to play in front of them so the threat had subsided. He supported well down the right and won throw-ins and corners that allowed us to gain decent territory. Unfortunately a victim of the desire to play 3-5-2 because if we played an orthodox right back, he’d be starting every week.

Robbie Brady – 6

Made a decent impact to follow up his bright showing against Lokeren on Thursday. Took over from Huddlestone in the woeful set piece department but in open play he was vivacious and made things happen. Given the abysmal nature of other performances, he must have given the manager food for thought.

Sone Aluko – n/a

Made a negligible impact and missed our best chance to equalise when he shot straight at Guzan. Like Ince, I think he’s playing too deep. People like to go on about the “number 10 role” these days and that’s what we’re trying to use them in. But Aluko’s best games for City have come when he played up front and got in behind defenders. He has good quick feet but he’s not just going to run at and beat seasoned defenders. He’s far better stretching them and working off through balls and crosses.


Steve Bruce – 3

Having rested players for the European game on Thursday because he’s prioritised Premier League points (which I fully understand evenif I don’t like it) and annoyed a lot of fans in the process – he had to get something out of today’s game. The players got off lightly for their poor showing against Lokeren and were rubbish again today but he has to carry the can.

Jake Livermore is wasted in the deeper midfield position. We’re not using Ince or Aluko to get in behind defences. You’d have to question whether chucking Michael Dawson straight in as part of our thre at the back system was a good idea given that he’s been a much lauded top flight defender for years and today he made Greg Strong and Neil Whitworth look alright.

Most worryingly is that, as a team, we’re passing the ball so poorly. We cough it up under pressure and when the pressure is off, we pass slowly and tamely from the back and we don’t look like hurting anyone from midfield. If Bruce is looking for two midfield bodies before tomorrow’s deadline – I’m not at all surprised.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Hull City 2 Lokeren 1

When is a win not a win? When you’ve clumsily lost the first leg one-nil a week previously.

Welcome to my first official Tiger-chat match report. I’ve been hoping for a week that it wouldn’t coincide with our first ever European exit. But I’m not that lucky.

So the adventure ends before it’s really started. In a game without any real pattern between two evenly matched sides – neither of whom ever dominated but instead traded tiny swings of momentum. That was until the Romanian referee intervened and dealt our European campaign a deathly blow.

Bruce picked a stronger side than he did last week in Lokeren but it still wasn’t quite full strength. Lining up 4-4-2 for the first time this season were:

McGregor; Rosenior, Figueroa, Chester, Davies; Elmohamady, Brady, Livermore, Meyler; Aluko, Sagbo.

Given that the only real difference between Lokeren and a weakened City team last week was a ghastly error, it looked a side capable of beating them at home. We got the perfect start too as Figueroa crossed low from the left, their keeper Verhulst came and missed and Robbie Brady walked the ball into the net.

The goal didn’t give the game the lift you’d imagine but it did help the atmosphere with the KC at roughly 75% capacity producing more noise than any home game last season. The relocation of the “Ulltras” to the North Stand has certainly helped but 1382 noisy Belgians didn’t do it any harm. They kept bursting into some crazy medley that featured a “USA” chant at one point and ended with an ode to Ian Ashbee.

The opening half hour featured a lot of play but little action. The home crowd grew more and more frustrated as mistakes and weak defending let them in down our left while sporadic Tigers’ attacks ended without a shot, a cross or even a vague appeal for a foul to show for it. On 15 a shot from Vanaken hit Davies and flew wide though it could have gone anywhere. From the resulting corner Maric headed over at the far post when he looked well positioned to score. 10 minutes later Davies was fortunate to avoid contact with Abdurahimi’s cross and the ball fell kindly for McGregor.

There were early signs that the referee wasn’t like those we encounter week to week. He punished every push in the back, however tame. He also didn’t indicate advantage though as far as I can tell no-one noticed. Lokeren were a decent if unspectacular side. De Pauw stood out with his pink boots and impressive footwork but he was rubbish at shooting and crossing so we didn’t have to worry about him. Vanaken, last week’s goalscorer, was the most crafty player. Even though he’s got legs like two plastic chip-shop forks, he moved intelligently and passed well.

City came to life a little in the five minutes before half time.  Sagbo, who made a decent contribution in the 20% of the game he wasn’t standing offside, chested Brady’s cross down for Meyler to force a save on the volley. It didn’t have a lot of pace on it but the keeper pawed it away like a kitten attacking a bit of string. Sagbo then had the chance to test him from range but shot tamely and straight at him.

Half time. One nil. No added time and just the one booking. Rosenior over-stretched and caught Persoons. He was being dragged back at the time and took a lot of the ball. Looked a bit harsh to me.

If City ended the first half well, they started the second appallingly. Gifting Lokeren possession from the kick off and then conceding a daft free kick from which McGregor tipped over Overmeire’s fine drive. The resulting corner was punched unconvincingly by the Scotch keeper and they kept it alive on the edge of the box before Remacle lashed home a shot from 12 yards with the possible aid of a small deflection.

It wasn’t undeserved. They hadn’t been second best and we hadn’t kicked on from the early goal. Livermore and Meyler created little from midfield and we didn’t get Elmohamady and Brady into positions where they looked like doing some damage. Amusingly the Lokeren fans sang “You only sing when you’re winning”.

Fortunately they weren’t level for long. Rosenior made a rare trip to the by-line and his cross was handled. The linesman in front of the vociferous West Stand (ho ho) immediately flagged for a foul but the referee didn’t appear to notice. Then once he did become aware, he didn’t seem to know whether it was in the box or not. Players from both teams surrounded him and the linesman marched to the edge of the penalty area to show that he was awarding a penalty kick. After a delay while both sides argued their case and the referee cleared the penalty area (slowly) – Robbie Brady stepped up and slid the ball into the bottom left hand corner. It was a terrific penalty under the circumstances. Shenanigans followed as City tried to retrieve the ball to take the kick off quickly, which is the most pointless action in football, and somewhere in the argument their manager Paes was sent to sit in the stands.

In amongst some comical refereeing Steve Bruce sent on Nikica Jelavic for Liam Rosenior on 65 minutes and switched to 3-5-2 to try and force the crucial third goal. Vanaken gets a lucky break and plays in De Pauw who kindly passes straight to McGregor. A laughable free kick is awarded after their keeper clatters into James Chester and then an equalising goal is disallowed for a very soft push by Persoons on Elmohamady. Aluko had a half chance but took the ball too far wide before committing a foul and Overmeire picked up a booking for continued arguing over the disallowed goal. The City fans lost patience with the referee and suggest he’s not fit for purpose. Unlike the Flemish safety announcements though – no Romanian translation is announced over the P.A.

On 70 minutes the tie turned and the laughable refereeing stopped being funny. Yannick Sagbo went in for a 50/50 with Galitsios. The Greek looked like the one who went over the top of Sagbo’s boot but he was also the one who hit the deck first and rolled around. To the astonishment of everyone the referee not only gave the foul against City but produced a straight red for Sagbo. It was an awful decision and one that would ultimately cost us a place in Europe.

They played out most of the last 20 minutes expertly. Killing the clock with well-rehearsed time wasting and cheap fouls. Just like we did so affectively against Stoke on Sunday.  Persoons was booked for a late challenge on Meyler and Aluko picked up a well-deserved yellow for what must have been his 97th foul. Bruce threw on Huddlestone and Ince for Meyler and Chester in the 74th minute but it didn’t have the desired effect. The performance was summed up quite nicely with two to play when Brady ran 60 yards down the left outstripping the right winger only to pass to Aluko whose attempt at a return ball was so wretched Chris Lee blushed.

Five minutes were added and City pressed to their credit. The tactics were clear – get the ball to Elmoahamady on the right and pile Huddleston and Davies into the box. It almost worked right on full time as Jelavic forced the keeper to drop a cross and Huddlestone lashed it goal wards only for them to kick it off the line.

That ended Hull City’s first ever involvement in high class European competition before the excitement of the group stage. Before the opportunity arises to face a Napoli, an Inter Milan, a Villareal or a Borussia Moenchengladbach. Steve Bruce will take some flak for that given his team selection – perhaps not so much for the home game but certainly for the first leg last week.

I don’t think it’s especially fair. The sad reality is that for both his own interests and those of the club – Bruce has to prioritise the Premier League. Europe is exciting, far more interesting than trips to bloody Stoke or Sunderland and an opportunity I am gutted to see end. For the club though, it’s a distraction that they both welcome and dread in equal measure. Bruce knows he has to stay in the Premier League. His job depends on it. And more importantly, the club cannot afford to be relegated – we’re in over our heads.

The FA Cup run was similar last year. It was never prioritised over the Premier League but Bruce did warm to it the longer it went on. He sort of hoped he could keep it going without risking burning out his best players. Reaching the FA Cup final or the Europa League knockout stages isn’t going to save his job if (big if) the club were relegated from the Premier League – or even threatened to be. I wish he’d prioritised Europe as much as the next guy but I understand why he wouldn’t.

So we’re now left with the saddest reality of all. This may not ever happen again. We may never experience Zilina or Lokeren in the future. We might not get the chance to feel cheated by a Romanian referee. We might be condemned to a lifetime of trips to Leicester and London.

Europe. Over and out.

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