Hull City dropped two points at home for the second successive Saturday with a 1-1 draw against Blackburn Rovers.
Moses Odubajo – Michael Dawson – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Ahmed Elmohamady – Tom Huddlestone – Mo Diame – Sam Clucas
Abel Hernandez – Chuba Akpom
The first half was a shocker for City. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve seen plenty worse – but for this group of players at this level it was so poor. The second half against QPR was dour last week but that was explainable in part due to being the third game in a week and the previous two were long treks. There was no such excuse this time.
In fact the excuses are running out full stop. We had an uncertain summer. We had many departures. We had the transfer window hanging over us like a black cloud. We had Mo Diame out injured and Jake Livermore facing suspension. All difficulties for the manager but all now out of the way. His only concern at the moment is putting out a team to win games in the Championship. We’ve started the season reasonably well but in nine league games we’ve only played well for ninety minutes in one of them – Cardiff away. The rest have been bitty performances. Sometimes we’ve dominated for short spells. Against Fulham it was half a game. In others, we’ve barely played well for fifteen minutes.
After nine games it seems Steve Bruce doesn’t know his best team or his best system. He wants to play 4-4-2 to accommodate Elmohamady and Odubajo and to press teams in their own half but his midfielders all look best in a three. More worrying is that regardless of system the football is tedious. The manager keeps telling Radio Humberside’s David Burns after games that we don’t move the ball quick enough or we bypass midfield. If I had a million quid for every time I’ve heard that, I could buy out Mr. Allam! Nothing seems to change in that regard. I mentioned several times last season that we were passing the ball like we were three-nil up despite drawing or losing games.
The Tigers never started this game. Curtis Davies was robbed in possession inside the first minute, booked for attempting to pull his opponent back and had to be rescued by Huddlestone. He had Dawson and McGregor to thank for saving him after similar errors. Grant Hanley headed a free kick wide at the back post and Robertson kicked a header from a corner off the line as the crowd got very tetchy, very quickly. The referee bore the brunt despite not doing a lot wrong but the attitude on the pitch caused the unhappiness in the stands.
When City eventually woke up they forced a couple of saves from Luke Steele through long-distance efforts by Huddlestone and Elmohamady. Davies and Hernandez briefly lit up the game with overhead efforts that looked beautiful but failed to trouble the keeper.
Half time: Hull City 0 Blackburn Rovers 0
The second half was crying out for changes – Maloney and Aluko seemed the obvious ones. Instead Bruce just slightly tinkered with the system to move Clucas inside and Diame ahead of him and Huddlestone. Elmo stayed wide right and Clucas had to cover the left if they got the ball. Not a lot changed, understandably and it was a battle of half chances. Theirs were the better, almost entirely from set pieces with only a tame Huddlestone volley testing Steele at the other end.
Clucas was the pick of the City players. He was lively, came off the left hand side to get involved and pulled their midfield about with his movement. He passed and moved quickly and opened gaps. If the others had played with anything like the same tempo – it would have been a different game. Chuba Akpom had a fine game too with excellent hold up play and strong, direct running. Abel Hernandez worked very hard again and maintained this excellent scoring ratio and Curtis Davies won a lot of challenges in the second half after a wretched opener. Odubajo continues to do a good job at right back but is being suppressed as an attacking force by having Elmo ahead of him. That isn’t quite working.
Mo Diame was completely invisible. He was barely involved and should have come off well before Maloney replaced him. Livermore then came on for Robertson and we started to find a little rhythm. It’s not the first time this season that the subs have changed City's performance. They’d go on to take the lead in controversial circumstances. Jordan Rhodes cut inside Curtis Davies inside our “D” and it looked very much like he was fouled by Davies desperate lunge. If it had been given as a free kick, Davies was guaranteed a second yellow card. The ref didn’t see it as a foul to the fury of Blackburn and with the visitors distracted by their annoyance City broke quickly, found Elmohamady on the right and he delivered a beautiful low cross that Hernandez only had to tap in from five yards [1-0].
It should have been two moments later. Elmo linked up with Odubajo who swung in a cross towards goal with his left foot. Maloney made an excellent run between the occupied centre halves and met it six yards out. He headed into the ground and it bounced wide. It was a big chance. With the game meandering towards its conclusion, Meyler replaced Hernandez in a standard “hold what we have” substitution. The board then went up with six minutes added and it gave Blackburn a lift. They forced three corners. From the second Jordan Rhodes found space at the near post to head home [1-1]. The marking was awful. Things nearly got even worse from the next as the ball looped up off two players challenging and fell to Hope Akpan who met it well on the volley from six yards only for McGregor to save brilliantly.
With the end nigh and the sense of disappointment so clear you could almost see it Curtis Davies had a chance to make up for his errors. City launched a free kick from the half way line, Hanley missed his header and Meyler nodded it to Davies who was arriving, eight yards out and free as a bird (think Charlton’s winner at the Valley). Davies headed the ball well wide of the post and two points went with it.
Half time: Hull City 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
The Tigers haven’t made an awful start. The points return is alright and the league position is fine but the sense of under-achievement given the individual quality in the City squad is growing. Steve Bruce has a little sympathy in the bank given the tribulations of the early season but coming off last season where we also under-achieved massively – I think it’s evaporating quickly. Excuses are becoming harder to make and tougher to swallow. It’s time to deliver performances and results.
Or find someone else who can?