The Tigers made it three wins out of three at home in the Championship with a hard fought 2-0 win over Preston North End.
Moses Odubajo – Michael Dawson – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Ahmed Elmohamady – David Meyler – Mohamed Diame – Sam Clucas
Abel Hernandez – Chuba Akpom
Steve Bruce somewhat surprisingly started Mo Diame again despite his lengthy absence before Tuesday night and deservedly dropped Tom Huddlestone. Nikica Jelavic wasn’t in the squad at all. He’s been struggling with a “sore” knee but Bruce also added after the game that two Premier League teams are interested in signing the Croatian striker and one had a bid rejected on Friday.
For the first twenty minutes or so of this one, City were second best. Preston started brightly and threatened through the pace of Chris Humphrey, a player I was impressed with a few years ago when he played for Shrewsbury, and Daniel Johnson while the midfield which included ex-Tiger John Welsh moved the ball neatly and quickly. City struggled to match their early endeavour and were limited to a couple of breaks.
The Tigers fought their way back into the game though. In part it was due to some patient passing which created good situations out wide but also to a small tactical switch which saw Sam Clucas move inside to create a midfield three and Hernandez pull wide, particularly out of possession, to cover the space on the left. David Meyler and Mo Diame had solid games in the midfield, until Diame tired quite early, and Clucas played very efficiently alongside them.
Preston’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford did his best to swing the game our way dropping a cross from Elmo against Akpom and getting very lucky that it didn’t fly into the net before charging out of his area to sweep up ahead of a brilliant late run from Clucas – only to dribble the ball into Hernandez and again get lucky with the rebound.
Abel Hernandez still doesn’t look anything like a twelve million euro striker but you have to give him credit for putting in a reasonable effort and getting himself into good positions. He picked up his second goal of the season in fashion which you’d either put down to persistence or sheer luck. Odubajo, who’d really got into the game with a shot just wide of the post after he exchanged passes with Meyler and a decent cross no-one attacked, latched on to a lovely ball from Dawson down the right and forced a corner. I noted that we never score from corners. Clucas delivered it, Akpom got a flick header, Hernandez poked it goalwards and as the defender whacked it off the line it hit Hernandez and flew into the net [1-0]. I’m not sure how he had the brass-neck to celebrate!
City should have gone in further ahead at the break but Hernandez, who’d imagine would be flying, then missed his second sitter of the week. Michael Dawson latched on to a ball in their half, pushed on with it and then hit a shot which deflected off a defender’s hand in to the path of Hernandez 10 yards out and seemingly onside. The goalkeeper had committed himself from the original shot and was grounded so Hernandez naturally shot straight at him.
Half time: Hull City 1 Preston North End 0
The second half started like the first and like some of the previous City games this season but in fairness this time, the momentum was being earned by Preston’s tempo and quick passing. Garner and Johnson missed reasonable chances, the latter blocked by Dawson in fairness, and the visitors kept up the pressure despite their goalkeeper dropping another clanger when he almost let a corner go into the path of Hernandez.
Mo Diame was looking knackered and had hardly been in the game since half time. The gap between defence and attack was starting to widen again and any attempt to break was foiled by fair means or foul – Welsh booked for the latter. Akpom and Hernandez started to look very isolated and threat from wide areas subsided. The obvious substitution was to introduce Isaac Hayden for Diame and shore up the midfield. Instead Bruce went for Shaun Maloney in place of the Senegalese (who is severely injury prone and no-one should even think about buying him this transfer window).
In a more obvious change, Aluko replaced Hernandez – who also looks unfit but has no injury to blame. The substitution was the wrong one and it didn’t change the pattern of the game (initially) with Preston continuing to ask all of questions particularly of Robertson who had no-one in front of him to help out and we were very fortunate to see a PNE midfielder head over a gilt-edged chance when Robertson had been double teamed on their right. To be fair to our young Scot I should also point out that seven games into the season - he finally stopped a cross. Hurrah.
Some people think Steve Bruce is a lucky manager which may be unfair on his experience and instinct but it is hard to disagree sometimes. Despite his substitution looking wrong at our end of the field where Meyler and Clucas were working overtime in midfield and much was owed to our superb defensive partnership, Maloney then took the game away from Preston. He combined with the buccaneering Robertson to win a corner and then sent over a fabulous delivery that Davies absolutely thumped into the back of the net (or where it used to be anyway) on the volley [2-0].
Full time: Hull City 2 Preston North End 0
I’m delighted with the return of ten points from fifteen that sees The Tigers sit second in the Championship going into the first international break. The summer was one of such disruption and the black cloud of relegation continues to hover over the place, and will do so until the transfer window shuts on Tuesday, so I have to give Steve Bruce a lot of credit for what he has done in the face of players leaving, less experienced players arriving and certain players and certain owners sulking their way through the season’s opening month.
Performances haven’t been convincing, there is room for improvement from the players and the manager and there are tougher tests ahead than what we’ve faced so far (Brighton and Cardiff away after the break for starters) but for everyone to move on – the club really needs to get to September 2nd relatively unscathed. Then everyone will know what they’re doing until January and what they are working with and the constant speculation can stop. Only then will we really find out the potential of this City squad to mount a challenge for promotion.
Under some pretty trying circumstances – they haven’t done too bad so far.