Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Football addict - Part 2: Selby 0 Hull City XI 3

While some are fortunate enough to be getting their summer football fix in Austria at the moment watching what is left of our first team battling to dull nil-nil draws – I had to get mine at the slightly rougher surroundings of The Fairfax Plant Hire Stadium, Selby.

The ground is at the bottom of a street with the entrance next to what appears to be a scrapyard/second hand kayak store. There is a covered stand at one end, a bar with benched seating outside along one side and three small changing rooms at the other. It’s all a bit untidy, just like the pitch but it can be forgiven when it features a portakabin called “Shabba’s vintage programme shop”.

The ground is pretty well hidden. My parents have lived around the corner for the last three years and I didn’t even know it was there. Three balls went missing over the fence in the first half – one in a school, one in a garden and one into the leisure centre car park.

The leisure centre was rebuilt last year. They held a competition to rename it and I saw a local newspaper clipping announcing the winner as so-and-so of somewhere who had ingeniously suggested “Selby Leisure Centre”.

Hull City XI: Bukran; Akbas, Tymon (Bowen), Aimson, Rodgers; Tombides, Hinchliffe, Rodgerson (McKenzie), Clark; Dunkerly, Kelleoy.

The line-up wasn’t overly familiar and featured several lads who are either U18 or new to the U21 squad with Will Aimson and Max Clark looking after them.

Aimson, who broke his leg while on loan at Tranmere last season, has looked clumsy when I’ve seen him previously but lead manfully from the back and headed everything. He showed really nice touches coming out of defence too.

It was the first time I’ve seen Taylor Tombides. The Aussie was released by West Ham last season and is the younger brother of former Hammer Dylan Tombides who died tragically after a battle with cancer last year. Taylor has pace to burn and runs well with the ball but gives possession away easily at times. He was unlucky not to score twice in the first half when he closed down the goalkeeper the first time and then a defender but couldn’t convert.

The stand out performer was Max Clark. Long before he cemented himself as the match winner, he impressed with a dominant midfield performance. He obviously thrived on the responsibility of looking after the young players and stood up to the rough style of the hosts who fancied intimidating the young Tigers. Clark took responsibility for the ball, moved easily through midfield and passed the ball well. He knows how the game works and lead others through it.

All of the youngsters stood up for themselves much better than they did the last time I saw them at Frickley but they laboured through the game, in truth. The opposition were very limited - particularly after a host of subs.

Max Clark opened the scoring mid-way through the second half when he drove at their defence, beat two men and lashed a left-footed shot across the keeper – who didn’t even move [0-1]. Jarrod Bowen was unlucky not to add a second after a really classy run but Taylor Tombides then did so with a run down the right and a scruffy finish beyond the keeper [0-2].

With practically the last kick of the game, Max Clark put the icing on the cake when he exchanged passes with Robbie McKenzie and curled a beauty from 25 yards into the far top corner [0-3]. I’d say it was worth the price of admission alone but it was only a fiver to get in and it was much better than that!

I enjoyed the trip to another quirky, scruffy little ground that I hadn’t been to before. The game was a physical test for the youngsters but they were rarely in trouble. I wondered before the game how much of the experience is for the physical test and how much is about “look where you’ll end up playing every week if you don’t apply yourself”.

The annual trip to Winterton wasn’t on the pre-season calendar this year, sadly. I did wonder if it was due to the dip in quality of their side in recent years. After tonight, I don’t think that can be the reason at all.

James Chester: Hull City's best defender ... ever

James Chester signed for Hull City in January 2011 and within half a game we knew we had a hell of a player on our hands.

Nigel Pearson bought Chester from Manchester United for £300,000 – an absolute snip. It was one of several signings made from United at the time and despite all of the players showing great promise - the results were mixed. Chester and Robbie Brady thrived, Corry Evans was under-appreciated and Cameron Stewart and Joe Dudgeon never recovered from injury problems.

Despite appearing small for a centre-half it was obvious that Chester was a “Rolls Royce” defender. A classy ball player. A sound reader of the game. Unflappable under pressure. And if all of that wasn’t enough to impress then bagging his first City goal against Leeds United won everyone over!

Pearson eventually paired Chester with Jack Hobbs at centre half (after Chester had a spell as a utility man) and they were an ideal Championship pairing. Between them they had pace, size, strength, agility, bravery and technical ability. Unfortunately “Nige” cleared off before we could see the completion of his team building but he’d started it from the back quite impressively.

When Steve Bruce replaced Nick Barmby, he achieved promotion and premier League survival but given that he’s never been able to solve the problem of our lack of goals, those achievements were built on a strong defence. Chester was clearly the best player in the team and Bruce’s favoured 3-5-2 suited him down to the ground.

Chester chose to represent Wales – being eligible because he likes cheese on toast or something – and he’s massively improved them too being part of a side that have leapt up to 10th in FIFA’s world rankings.

For all of his achievements at City, the name “James Chester” will always be synonymous with the 2014 FA Cup Final. Playing in the Cup Final for Hull City was probably beyond his wildest dreams but when he opened the scoring inside three minutes he achieved the boyhood ambition of every kid on the planet who has ever kicked a football. Just don’t mention the result.

Chester’s departure to West Brom doesn’t harm Hull City too much in the short term. In Michael Dawson, Alex Bruce, Curtis Davies and Harry Maguire - we still have four very good centre halves to call on. 

However, if the club has any ambitions of ever getting back into the Premier league and establishing itself there – we’ve just lost a player who’ll be a very good top flight defender for at least the next five years. Given the constant inflating of talent in England, I’m not sure the club can buy another James Chester. 

More than that, we've just lost the best defender I've ever seen in black and amber. Even better than Michael Turner. And that is praise indeed.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Hull City: Sam Clucas in, Robbie Brady out

Hull City are on the verge of signing Chesterfield winger Sam Clucas for around £1.3m.

Clucas was suggested as a budget buy for The Tigers in a blog I wrote last week. Evidence, if you needed it, that Steve Bruce is an avid reader!

(C) thestar.co.uk

Sadly the impending arrival of a versatile left-sided player signals the end of the Hull City career of Robbie Brady who it seems will be joining Norwich City for £7m. The two clubs have been butting heads over a price for the past month and an agreement has finally been reached that represents a fair price for a talented player who has only a year left on his contract.

Brady joined City in January 2013 for a fee that would eventually hit £2.5m after two previous loan spells from Manchester United. When he first arrived 18 months earlier he was a rarely effective show pony with obvious talent but no idea what to do with it. Since signing permanently for Steve Bruce he's matured as a footballer and taken on the responsibility of a key defensive role. Playing left-wing back demands stamina, concentration and attacking threat and he's provided all three. But for injuries, he would have been a star performer in the Premier League for the past two seasons.

He has room to improve, particularly his set pieces which are either woeful or exquisite with little in between. There's no doubt though that he'll get into attacking areas and create chances. Sadly those chances were too often wasted at the KC Stadium - if anyone even got on the end of the crosses.

Replacing a player of Brady's quality isn't easy but The Tigers have been watching Clucas for Chesterfield and have decided that he has the ability to step up to the Championship. He certainly looks a good fit for the role given that he's naturally left-footed, a winger primarily but with experience of playing left-back and as a second striker.

It would be foolish to dismiss his chances of making the grade too. Clucas was released by Leicester City at sixteen and then didn't break through at Lincoln City a couple of years later. He continued to pursue a career in football though and impressed at Glenn Hoddle's football academy in Spain enough to earn a move to Hereford.

He was then transferred to Mansfield and before making another step up last summer to Chesterfield. He won further admirers in League One and contributed hugely as Chesterfield made the play-offs -  playing 55 games in all competitions and bagging 12 goals.

Clucas represents a good investment at 24 years old and for less than a quarter of the Brady fee. There is no guarantee with any signing but given the epic failures of players who cost five-eight times the reported £1.3m - this one seems a comparatively safe bet.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Hull City and the "reality of relegation"

According to reports - Hull City are set to sign Sam Clucas from League One Chesterfield for £1m to replace Robbie Brady who is going to Premier League Norwich City for £7m.

Losing sought after players and replacing them cheaply is the “reality of relegation”. Burnley and QPR, who were relegated along with City in May, have or are about to suffer similarly with the losses of Danny Ings, Kieran Trippier and Charlie Austin. 

(C) Goal.com

While it may be a harsh reality, it dosn't have to be terminal. Last summer relegated Norwich last Leroy Fer and Robert Snodgrass under similar circumstances. They were able to achieve promotion with their rebuilt squad (and a new manager in Alex Neil) despite those losses. Ironically the two players, sold to QPR and Hull City respectively, passed them on their way up.

That term “reality of relegation” has been used previously this summer in relation to The Tigers’ desire to get rid of high earners from the wage bill, recouping some of the massive outlay on transfer fees, and the need of both Hull City and QPR to release anyone coming to the end of a good contract.

That isn’t representative of reality though - it is the outcome of over-spending the massive TV revenue afforded you in the Premier League. Burnley are a fine example of clubs who have not suffered too greatly from relegation because they always prepared for the eventuality.

Meanwhile, The Tigers had the 8th highest net spend in the Premier League over the past two seasons of around £50m while newly promoted QPR had the 8thhighest wage bill in the top division in 2014/15.Both clubs are now suffering from the over-indulgence and under-achievement in their recent flirtations with the top flight.

Even so – they have chosen to tackle the problem in different ways.Hull City, much to the chagrin of most fans, have opted to wait until the big names have been sold before entering the transfer market - creating the impression of an exodus.

It has seen The Tigers' tag of bookmaker’s favourites for promotion bestowed on rivals Derby and Middlesbrough and along with rising season ticket prices and the continued name change malarkey has seen levels of anticipation drop similarly to those held by people waiting for the Hull fishing industry to make a comeback or Hull FC fans waiting for a win at Wembley.

QPR on the other hand invested the windfall they expect to receive for Charlie Austin in some promising talent like Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin of Swindon Town and cherry picking some of the talent available on the “Bosman” market.

The “reality of relegation” is easy to accept. Most football fans are not stupid and appreciate that their club has to cut its cloth according to its expected income.

It’s a little harder to accept inactivity, uncertainty, lack of any clear strategy and absence of communication from the club. That’s the biggest crime Hull City’s administrators have committed this summer.

The fans are more important to the club in the Championship now the riches of the Premier League are long gone. The club has to maximise it's revenue through the gate and from merchandising and marketing. Those fans deserve respect and they need hope. Especially when in the case of The Tigers’ fans they are being asked to pay more for it.

The club, sadly, has slumbered since relegation was confirmed. Now is the time for everyone to wake up and spring into action before reality bites.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Five budget transfer options for Hull City manager Steve Bruce

Depending on the outcome of Thursday’s meeting with the owners – Steve Bruce may well find himself shopping in the budget section for summer transfers. 

I’ve had a look at five cheaper deals that may appeal to the Hull City manager, assuming he gets enough commitment from the owners to stay.

Jamie Walker – Winger – Hearts – Age 22

The Edinburgh born wide man is one of a number of players who came of age during Hearts domination of the Scottish Championship last season. After exiting administration, Hearts made the decision to build a team around their youngsters and it’s benefitted the club and the players.

Walker has bags of talent but was previously considered lazy. His manager heaped praise on him last season for improving his work-rate and fitness and it resulted in him hitting eleven goals in thirty-three league games.

The player isn’t desperate to leave Edinburgh, having a young family, but he’s sure to be the object of attention from England, and maybe further afield, before too much longer.

Sam Clucas – Winger – Chesterfield – Age 24

A former Leicester City youth product, Clucas has had to work his way back up the football ladder after being let go by the Foxes and has done so via a spell at the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain and moves to Hereford, Mansfield and Chesterfield.

He’s not short of admirers and Chesterfield have already rejected offers over £1m from Wigan Athletic. We were afforded the opportunity to watch him closely in The Tigers recent friendly at the Proact Stadium and he looks a quick, strong player who is comfortable wide or playing off the striker. He’s constantly on the move looking for space and has a very nice left foot.

He’s still a little rough – his touch needs work and he can be more composed but he’s a good age and a fair price and will get better.

Jamie Murphy – Winger – Sheffield United – Age 25

Murphy is another Scottish wide player who also bagged eleven league goals last season. The Glaswegian enjoyed a productive season at Bramall Lane after struggling to settle during the previous couple of years after his move south from Motherwell.

Murphy has good pace, trickery and an eye for goal. He can improve his physical attributes but has time on his side.

There is likely to be competition for his signature and a fee of around £1m (Probably double if you’re Hull) but he’d be a sound investment for the future.

James Maddison – Midfielder – Coventry City – Age 18

The latest prospect to come through the impressive academy system at Cov – Maddison is a young midfielder with a lot of promise who has alledgedly already attracted interest from the Premier League.

He’s perhaps a little too young for Hull City at this point as Steve Bruce may want Championship ready players but there is no doubt he’d be a sensible investment. He’s really grounded and has a wise head on his shoulders but is a feisty player with good technical ability.

Scott Allan – Midfielder – Hibs – Age 23

Touted as prodigiously talented as a youngster at Dundee United, Allan has already made the move to England and struggled to break through at the top level. He joined WBA having just turned 21 but never made the first team instead taking in loan spells at Portsmouth (twice), MK Dons and Birmingham.

Since returning to Hibs, he’s shown again the talent he possesses and was easily the best player in the Scottish Championship last season despite Hearts runaway success and the presence of Rangers. He has the ability to make things happen with a run no-one sees or an unexpected pass. He has quick feet and a good football brain.

Whether he has the temperament for English football is questionable. He’s so far displayed elements of “big fish” syndrome but he’s at a better age to try again. He could be available for less than £300,000 which may well be a gamble worth taking.

Tranmere 0 Hull City 3: Short and sweet match report

City progressed in the League Cup on a first visit to Tranmere for 14 years since a Craig Fagan inspired win in League One en route to b...